We all know what an apostrophe is, but I see them misused daily. Although I don’t imagine that most of my readers need it, here is a basic primer on how to use apostrophes. Send the link to someone you care about who needs it. (Or maybe to someone you despise who needs it.)
An apostrophe indicates:
1) that a letter or letters have been intentionally omitted from a word, e.g., don’t (for do not), where’s (for where is), could’ve (for could have – not, for the love of all that’s holy, could of) it’s (for it is or it was or it has), o’clock (for on the clock). Note that two words unite as a compound word but one or two letters are left out. This is a nod to how we speak in ordinary conversation. We might say, “She will return if she does not have the letter,” but we are more likely to say, “She’ll return if she doesn’t have the letter.” Speech is loose like that, and this use of the apostrophe permits us the same freedom in print.
2) possession, e.g., Bob’s coat, Mary’s purse, the boy’s book. For plural nouns ending in s, just add an apostrophe: the boys’ books, the politicians’ errors. For plural nouns that do not end in s, add an ’s: the children’s toys, the women’s banquet. (There are varying rules on showing possession with the names of some ancient people and with nouns ending in c or x. Consult your favorite style or grammar guide as necessary.)
3) the plurals of single letters for clarity: “Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.” Although some style guides will give you a break on this, I recommend the apostrophe with capital letters as well as lowercase ones: “He got straight A’s on his report card.” Without the apostrophe, we would see the word As in the middle of the sentence; or worse, “His report card was full of Bs.”
Apostrophes do not belong in simple plurals, such as one sees at any fine grocery: “Apple’s, $1/lb.” The apple’s what is a dollar per pound? Nor does one use an apostrophe merely because a word ends with an s: “The smart buyer shop’s here,” or as on a building I’ve seen too frequently: “Antique’s.”
An apostrophe always points toward the missing element or the possessive noun or the single letter. In the word don’t, the apostrophe’s tail points to where the second letter o would have been. Be sure that you don’t accidentally end up with a single open quote mark rather than an apostrophe; this is getting to be an all-too-common error.
That’s it for apostrophes. Thanks for playing.