In the previous article, we looked at common grammar mistakes, including the misuse of certain words and commas. In this article, the focus will be on apostrophes.

Apostrophes are possibly the most commonly misused piece of punctuation. Often people put apostrophes in words when they are not needed, in the wrong place within a word, or forget to use them at all. The incorrect use of or lack of an apostrophe can completely change the meaning of a word, and could also make the word incomprehensible.

The first way in which apostrophes can be used is to replace a missing letter. This means that either two words or one long word can be shortened using an apostrophe. For example:

Do not = don’t
Will not = won’t
Cannot = Can’t
I have = I’ve
Would have = would’ve (people often confuse ‘would’ve’ for meaning ‘would of’, but in English grammar this is incorrect)
They have = they’ve
You have = you’ve
You are = you’re
It is = it’s (this can often be confusing and will be further explained, but as can be seen in this example, ‘it’s’ is a contraction and not possessive)

However, with respect to all of the above examples it is best not to use such contractions in academic writing, as it is less formal. ‘I cannot begin to understand the significance of apostrophes’ will be better received than ‘I can’t begin to understand the significance of apostrophes’ by the person reviewing your work. So when writing a formal piece of academic work it is best to write in the full form.

As mentioned above ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ go against the normal rules of grammar and apostrophe use, which can confuse even the most advanced of writers. ‘Its’ is often used as a possessive adjective and does not need an apostrophe in this case. For example:

The mouse scuttled into its hole

The second way in which apostrophes can be used is for possessive nouns. For example:

The cat’s bed
The school’s motto
Travis’s bookshop
The boy’s shoes
Alison’s car

However, when these are describing plurals, the apostrophe is placed at the end. For example:

The cats’ beds (beds belonging to two or more cats)
The schools’ mottos (the mottos of two or more schools)
Travises’ bookshops (two or more bookshops belonging to the Travis’)
The boys’ shoes (shoes belonging to two or more boys)
Alisons’ cars (cars belonging to two or more people named Alison)

It is important to remember that apostrophes must never be used to represent plurals (more than one of something). The following examples show an incorrect statement in red, and the correction in green:

TV’s for sale TVs for sale                                    TVs for sale
100’s of offers 100s of offers                            100s of offers
Apple’s grown here Apples grown here            Apples grown here
Discounted sofa’s Discounted sofas                Discounted sofas