A few months ago, I covered blogger grammar basics in when to use periods, commas, and semicolons, along with how to use colons, ellipses and dashes. In one of the comments, a sweet blogger suggested that I write one about how to use apostrophes, because they had been seeing them misused a lot.
Lately I've been seeing them misused quite a bit, so it seemed appropriate to visit the topic. In the last segments, I used Gossip Girl to illustrate my examples. Now that the show is well over, I'll be using Pretty Little Liars for examples 😉
The Apostrophe is for Possessives
A common use for the apostrophe is to indicate the possessive: that someone or something (a noun) possesses another item.
So you may say, OMG. Aria's relationship with Ezra is SO inappropriate! In this example, Aria possesses the relationship, so it would be Aria's (not Arias, which would mean there is more than one Aria. And we're watching Pretty Little Liars, not Fringe, got it?).
You could also say, Spencer's boyfriend Toby is SUPER dreamy! Who doesn't love a bad boy with a heart of gold?
In this example, Spencer is in possession of a boyfriend. Not boyfriend's because the boyfriend is not in the ownership role.
Though if you said, Spencer's boyfriend's car is a beat up truck, you would be right! Spencer is in possession of the boyfriend, but the boyfriend is also in possession of the truck.
Easy enough, right? Use an apostrophe if someone is in possession of another object, item, person, etc. Use just an -S if there are more than one (relationships, trucks, letters, photos).
The Apostrophe for Acronyms or Years
If you are talking about a period of time or decade, then it is plural. This is the same if you're talking about an acronym (aka DVDs, CDs, or VCRs); it's always in the plural. If you're talking specifically about a particular year, then it would be the possessive.
I love Aria's '90s fashions!
Aria is in possession of the '90s. But why isn't 90s in possession of fashion? In this instance, '90s is a whole decade, hence the plural usage.
If you were to talk about the specific year, I love Aria's 1990's fashion!, then it would be in the possessive. It means that you love the fashion Aria wore that is specific to the year 1990.
If you're omitting the first 2 numbers in a decade, be sure to put an apostrophe before the year (aka 1990s vs. '90s).
The Apostrophe as Plural AND Possessive.
This is where apostrophes can get confusing. Say you want to talk about all 4 little liars. There are multiples of them, so you know not to use an apostrophe. But they will be in ownership of something, so that would mean an apostrophe… right?
If you have multiples in possession, the apostrophe comes at the end.
The girls' fashion sense is killer. I love Aria's playful combinations, Spencer's pretty but preppy chic, Emily's down to earth pieces, and Hanna's super-fashionista styling.
Here girls is plural, but they are in possession of fashion. This would vary from The girl's fashion… which would be talking about the fashion of one girl. This is a really subtle use of an apostrophe, but an amazingly easy way to change the meaning of your sentence!
Note: if you're talking about something that is plural, but also ends in -S, like the last name Jones, you have two options: you can say Jones' or you can say Jones's. Grammarians say both are acceptable, just be consistent in the one you choose.
The Apostrophe as a Contraction
A contraction combines two words together.
Like: It is in your best interest to leave the photos becomes It's in your best interest to leave the photos.
You are going to die becomes You're going to die.
Allie is going to kill us all! becomes Allie's going to kill us all!
And you get the point. So when you're writing, it's a good idea to read your post out loud to yourself. You'll find the contractions naturally because it's part of our common, every day speech to combine them.
Many common spelling mistakes come from this area of apostrophe use. So if you can say “you are” in place of “you're” in the sentence, then you're using the right one. If you can't say “you are” in place of it, you should be using “your.” Same with it is vs. its, or they are vs. their (or there).
The apostrophe as contraction can easily get confused with the apostrophe showing ownership. Emily's… can mean two things: Emily is… or Emily is in possession of…. The rest of your sentence will let the reader know which version it is, based on what comes after.
And that's it. Apostrophes (not Apostrophe's) made easy. Or not so easy. Just when you get a handle on when the apostrophe, there's an exception to the rule or a weird cousin that does things a little bit differently. For the most part, you'll be using apostrophes when using contractions and when showing possession in your posts. If you can nail those two, you're pretty set.
Want a bit more? The Oatmeal has a great, illustrated version of how to use apostrophes.
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