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Apostrophe Catastrophes

A quick lesson on how to use the comma's uptight cousin. A few weeks ago, I saw a sign in Downtown Winnipeg. It boiled my blood and ruptured my organs.

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Days later, I got an email from a local radio station about a survey they were conducting.

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What's wrong?

The first one should have an apostrophe, and the second shouldn't. It's Downtown's biggest street festival, and they are shows.

I wish I could tell you these abominations were part of infrequent misunderstandings, but they aren't. Apostrophes seem to be the most misunderstood form of punctuation. That's sad, because it's also one of the most visible.

See? You're hurting him.

So what's the proper way to use one?

The apostrophe is primarily used for two things: to show letters are missing and to indicate possession.

For example:

There's no chance I'm getting up on that mountain. I don't trust rocks bigger than my hand.

In this case, the apostrophe stands in for missing letters. Instead of saying There is no chance, or I do not, you put an apostrophe. Hooray! Now you understand contractions like don'tshouldn'tcan't, or would've.

Here's another example:

Never touch Jon's LEGO. He does not want you to play with it—model purposes only. 

In this case, we're talking about a superior building tool that belongs to Jon, so we use an apostrophe.

Seems simple enough, right?

But what about "it"?

Crap. The dreaded it. The apostrophe is simple until it comes to the word it: the rules reverse with this one word. 

Normally you would say, I have two footballs. There are multiple footballs, so you add an -s.

If you said, I have woven gold into the football's fabric, you're talking about something that belongs to the football. Possession, so 's.

Then there's itIt can be part of a contraction, but it can also be possessive.

If I'm trying to say it is, I'll shorten to it's. If I'm talking about something that belongs to it, I have to write its. 

Remember: contractions over possessions. 

If you can't remember that, try adding is to your apostrophe. Does it make sense?

That horse is scary because it's temper is bad.

Does the apostrophe make sense? Let's expand that contraction:

That horse is scary because it is temper is bad.

Nope. I guess you don't need an apostrophe: That horse is scary because its temper is bad. 

Its not like I hate horses—that one just freaks me out.

Hold on a second, should that be two words?

It is not like I hate horses—that one just freaks me out.

It should! I guess I need an apostrophe. It's not like I hate horses—that one just freaks me out. 

Quick review: Apostrophe rules

  1. Insert an apostrophe when you want to eliminate letters. I have -> I've. 
  2. Insert an apostrophe when someone owns something. Jon owns LEGO -> Jon's LEGO.
  3. When using it, contraction overrules possession. You don't write, Its four in the morning—you write, It's four in the morning. When something belongs to a non-human animal or object, never use an apostrophe for possession. You don't write, It's temper flared and it kicked me—you write, Its temper flared and it kicked me.

Still having trouble? Post your question in the comments section below!





Their isn't much excuse...

The matter with "What's the matter?"