And now we come to another teeth-gritter: How so many people nowadays insist on misusing the poor little apostrophe! Some folks think anytime they make something plural, they gotta stick an apostrophe in there before the “s” – so we get abominations like “the Smith’s live here” (sign on a house) and “my idea’s are …” (in a Facebook post, please don’t ask me to reference it specifically!). Others use it incorrectly with possessive pronouns (as in your’s, her’s, their’s, etc. (I’ve yet to encounter an attempt to make “hi’s” into a possessive, but maybe I just haven’t gotten to my daily Facebook perusal yet!)

The proper uses of an apostrophe are:

(1) to indicate something (i.e., one of more letters) is missing in the word(s); and

(2) to show possession in some specific instances.

The problem is, many folks think they must then be used for ALL possessives, and so they stick them into possessive pronouns, where they have no place at all!

Maybe the best starting-point for this discussion is the whole “it’s/its” confusion: there are specific standards, absurdly simple rules… and it provides a very good guideline for most of the other cases.

Simply put:

  • “It’s” can only be a contraction for “it is” (indicating a letter has been left out, just as “isn’t” shows “is not” as a contracted two-word phrase crunched into a single word).
  • Meanwhile, “its” is the possessive pronoun standing for “belonging to it” and never has an apostrophe…

Any questions? Seeing none …

Similarly, “you’re” is the contraction for “you are”; “your” is the possessive pronoun indicating “belonging to you” (That’s the simple answer; there’s (aka, more formally, “there is”) also the word “yours” … which is the one you use when there isn’t a specific noun being used. (“your toys” … “the toys (or “ones”) that are yours …”)

(A huge part of this error, of course, stems from the similar sounds of the words … and that issue will be taken up more broadly in a near-future posting, entitled… wait for it… “The homophonic divergence.” Loud groans are expected for that little bit of wordplay.)

The other error is much more recent, and involves trying to make plurals of proper names, by sticking that apostrophe in before the closing “s.” Let me put this plainly: NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!

If you put an apostrophe after “Smith” to create the word “Smith’s” you are indicating something owned by a person named “Smith” (e.g., “John Smith’s lawn-mower”); you are NOT talking about the family as a whole (the Smiths”). If you were talking about something the whole family owned, you’d use the apostrophe, but AFTER the “s” (as in “the Smiths’ home”). There are some even odder rules (and exceptions to those) when the person’s name already ends in an “s” (“Jones” is a good example of this), but I’ll save that for another round.