It’s easy to understand apostrophes

by Emily

Pity the poor apostrophe. Much misunderstood, misaligned and sidelined, the apostrophe is perhaps the most abused of all of the punctuation marks in English grammar.

Back to school

According to a recent news story, it seems that it's not just texting teenagers and errant shopkeepers who are happy to fling apostrophes about without any concern for their proper usage (potato's, anyone?). Barnet Council has produced nearly 200 posters carrying the following grammatically incorrect slogan: "Our school's are amongst the top performing in the country." With grammatical leadership like that, it might require to outside assistance of an English tutor to ensure these blunders don't rub off on any pupils.

Blushing over blunder

The council were apparently unaware of the blunder until a local newspaper rang to tell them about it. To be fair, Councillor Andrew Harper did respond by saying: "This is obviously deeply embarrassing. I thoroughly dislike misplaced apostrophes myself, but I'm not going to sanction spending £1,700 of taxpayers' money on replacing the posters in this current financial climate."

A quick lesson

It's fair to say that this mistake would not have happened 50 years ago, when grammar was taught very thoroughly in schools. Attitudes towards the teaching of grammar have varied wildly in the years since then, meaning that many adults have a limited grasp of how to use an apostrophe.

Knowing where to put an apostrophe can be quite confusing if you don't know the rules, but happily those rules are fairly simple.

Matters of possession

An apostrophe indicates possession:

Sally's sandwich was made of cheese (there is only one Sally, so the apostrophe goes before the 's').

The soldiers' sandwiches were made of cheese (there are many soldiers, so the apostrophe goes after the 's').

The children's sandwiches were made of cheese (children is a plural already, so the apostrophe goes before the 's').

Quite the contraction

An apostrophe indicates a contracted word:

Cannot becomes can't

Do not becomes don't

It's or it is?

This is the rule that some people find the most confusing. However, it's easy when you know how!

It's is the contraction of it is: "It's easy to understand this now."

Its means 'belonging to it': "Its fleece was white as snow."

That's all there is to it is!