End apostrophe abuse

This entry was posted on Monday, April 19th, 2010 at 3:12 PM

There I was tucking into my porridge, when a leaflet from my local leisure centre dropped through the door.

I like having something to read with my breakfast so I started to flick through it. There was a rather large ad on the back page (so a good, prominent position that most likely cost quite a bit) and the heading read:

“Wedding Video’s.”

Oh dear. Not a good start. Misplaced apostrophes are my bugbear and for the life of me, I don’t understand why anyone thinks it’s correct to use one in a plural. Reading further down the ad, I came across:

“Children’s Party’s”.

Breakfast now totally ruined, and indigestion setting in, I decided to write about apostrophe abuse again.

OK. Apostrophes have two main uses:

1) To show a letter or letters have been left out of a word (contraction).

2) To show belonging (possessive).


Some examples:

I just can’t do this. (I just cannot do this).

Customers don’t like misplaced apostrophes. (Customers do not like misplaced apostrophes).

John won’t be going to the meeting next week. (John will not be going to the meeting next week).

I wouldn’t put that apostrophe there if I were you. (I would not put that apostrophe there if I were you)

She couldn’t have tried any harder. (She could not have tried any harder).

I wrote about contractions not long ago.  I know some people don’t like them but trust me, they do make copy easier and more pleasant to read.

Without contractions, copy sounds pompous, formal, and very robotic.


Elaine’s book is over there on the shelf (the book belonging to Elaine).

The cat’s basket is next to the fire (the basket belonging to the cat).

Brand names of course are a law unto themselves:



It gets a little more complicated if you have a word that already ends in ‘s’, but only a little. Take this for instance:

Thomas’s drink.

You still have to use the apostrophe followed by ‘s’. So,

Chris’s bicycle.

James’s camera.

But this is English, so naturally there are exceptions. However, it’s unlikely these two will crop up in your business writing:

Jesus’ disciples

Archimedes’ screw

Here are some examples of place names:

St James’s Park

St Thomas’s Road

And a tricky one:

Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital NHS Trust.


With plurals, the apostrophe goes after the final ‘s’. So:

The teams’ colours clashed. (The colours of multiple teams clashed).

The books’ covers were damaged in the flood. (The covers of multiple books were damaged).

OK. That’s straightforward but what about words that are already plural? Children, men, women, people for instance.

Well again, it’s not difficult. Each word is a collective noun so you treat it as singular. The apostrophe goes after the last letter and before the ‘s’. Some examples:

The children’s shoes.

The men’s shoe department.

The women’s dress collection.

The people’s vote.

It’s or its?

This always causes problems, and yes it’s confusing when I’ve just told you that apostrophes show that something belongs. However, now I’m going to tell you that this particular possessive doesn’t take an apostrophe.

It’s quite easy once you remember that.

Use it’s if you are replacing a word e.g. it is.

Use its if there is no word to replace e.g.

The cat sat on its mat.

So – the dog sleeps in its (belonging to the dog) kennel. It’s (it is) kept outside. (How jolly mean!)

Incorrect use of apostrophes

Here’s what triggered this post: apostrophes used when the word is simply plural:



Greeting’s cards



1980’s (unless you mean something that belongs to the 1980s, like shoulder pads and black ash furniture, or if you’re American.)

However there are times when it’s correct and useful to use an apostrophe in a plural:

Mind your p’s and q’s

How many s’s are there in Mississippi?

Don’t litter your writing with e.g.’s and i.e.’s

In the last three examples, the apostrophe gives clarity.

Of course there are exceptions – this is English after all. However, I hope this article helps.

An ‘infestation’ of ‘inverted commas’ | Alternative remedies – simple words for clearer business writing

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Hello. I'm Elaine, I'm a copywriter and this is my blog.

It's mostly about words and writing - things that inspire me, entertain me, and make me smile. Sometimes it's about things that horrify me so much I want to scream and shout!

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