Where using the semi-colon in writing is a choice, using an apostrophe is not. There are rules. And rules must be obeyed. Sometimes pushing boundaries and breaking rules can seem fun or make you appear edgy. Breaking the apostrophe rules does neither of these. The rules are simple and there are only three uses for an apostrophe, so it should be an easy one to master. The three uses are for contraction or omission, and for possession.
So why do apostrophes matter?
I saw some crazy campaign a while back to get rid of apostrophes. Why was this crazy? Because we need them. Without them our language becomes vague. This is because they change the meaning of the words and so, if you use them incorrectly, you are changing the meaning of what you have written.
My partners’ friend’s blogs (this refers to the blogs belonging to the friend of my partner).
My partner’s friends’ blogs (the blogs belonging to the friends of my partner).
My partners’ friend’s blogs (the blogs belonging to the friend of more than one partner).
My partners’ friends’ blogs (the blogs belonging to the friends of more than one partner).
It’s only the positioning of the apostrophes here that clarifies what you’re saying; the wording remains the same, so to avoid confusion, you need to get it right.
Apostrophe for contraction and for omission
You should always use an apostrophe to indicate that a word has been shortened. The apostrophe is there almost in place of the missing characters.
This can happen for abbreviations, such as isn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t.
You might also use it to creating a sense of the spoken word, for example, somethin’.
You could choose to use it because you don’t want to provide the complete word, for example, the ’60s.
Contractions are usually considered to belong to a relatively informal style of writing. If you are writing something more formal, such as an informative or instructional piece then you may want to avoid using them. However, they can work well to reflect a more casual spoken voice in a piece of reflective writing or in a story where you are focussing on character creation.
Apostrophe for possession
Another time when you absolutely must use an apostrophe is when it marks out ownership or possession. This is the point where most errors with use of the apostrophe are made, and although confusion occurs, the rules are actually fairly straightforward once you understand them.
1. If the noun is singular, you would usually add your apostrophe + s:
Did you read Missy’s blog post? It is the blog post belonging to Missy which is a singular noun (there is only one Missy here!) and so the apostrophe goes after the noun (Missy) and before the s.
2. If the noun is plural then usually you would add only an apostrophe
Have you seen the members’ questions in the Blogable forums? The questions come from more than one member; they are the questions of the members (plural) so the apostrophe goes after the s.
3. If the noun is plural and it doesn’t end in an s then you would add an apostrophe + s
The children’s toys were left lying all over the floor.
Here the toys on the floor belong to the children. There is more than one child so it is a plural noun, but it doesn’t end in s so you add the apostrophe after the plural noun (children) and before the s.
4. If you have a singular proper noun that ends in s then you can choose whether to add the apostrophe only or the apostrophe and the s.
Mrs Jones’ blog post is fantastic. Mrs Jones’s blog post is fantastic.
We all love a bit of flexibility and don’t let it be said that the English language can’t accommodate this, so really, whether you choose to use only an apostrophe or an apostrophe followed by an s is up to you and the way that you want your writing to sound to the reader.
WARNING. The Rogue Apostrophe
A word of warning about using apostrophes. Some people find remembering the rules for apostrophe use difficult so they choose to leave them out and don’t use them at all. This is incorrect and, as stated above, it can mean that the meaning of your writing is unclear.
Sometimes people go the other way. They get carried away and they use them all of the time. Every time they see a word which ends in s, they add an apostrophe. This is called a rogue apostrophe and you really, really don’t want to do this.
Apple’s and orange’s, peak’s and dip’s, idiot’s and rogue apostrophe user’s. These word’s do not need apostrophe’s.
Hopefully these rules will help you to keep on the right side of the rules and communicate your meaning at the first reading.
Remember, punctuation is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit!