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I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Sometimes, you are so close to a great solution that if the wind blows a certain way, you'll hit upon it, but if it blows another way, you dismiss your line of thought and move onto other plans. Try as you might, it is very difficult to get the design just right the very first time all of the time.

Phil Haack



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 7/21/2017

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Posts - 2441
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Hits - 1,968,048

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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 9:21 PM Pacific


  12:26 AM

Apostrophes. People get 'em wrong all the time. Right? Some people feel that this is because writers just aren't applying the lessons they should have learned in school. (Can we say "lazy"?) For example, here's a comment that appeared recently on a Facebook thread:
Apostrophes aren't actually very hard at all. They are stand-ins for missing letters. If you can extend "they're" to "they are" then it gets an apostrophe. Plurals never get them. This is literally first grade punctuation.
So I went back to first grade to refresh my memory about apostrophe rules. Here's what I learned!
Use an apostrophe to indicate a missing letter, like can't or didn't or ain't.

But don't use an apostrophe when you're just taking out a space! Just letters. Don't write do'n't.

Don't forget won't, which is a contraction for … wo not? Side question: What's ain't a contraction for?

And 'tis.

If you're contracting and, don't forget to use two apostrophes: rock 'n' roll, peaches 'n' cream, Bang 'n' Olufsen.

Use an apostrophe if you're combining a pronoun or noun and a verb, like she'll and there's and who's and Fred's and I'd've and they'll and Mike'll and y'all'd've.

Add apostrophe plus s to the end of a noun to indicate possession: dog's breakfast, pedant's delight. (Question: In dog's, what letter does the apostrophe stand in for? Answer: Shhh.)

Yes, add apostrophe plus s even if the noun ends in s, like the boss's red tie, Texas's Board of Education, and Davy Jones's locker.

And even if the final s is not pronounced, like Descartes's existence and Xerxes's army.

Unless you have a style guide that tells you not to add an apostrophe plus s to singular nouns that end in s, in which case it will be Davy Jones' locker.

Don't add an apostrophe plus s for certain names, like Jesus' and Moses'.

Hmm. We changed our minds, do add an apostrophe plus s for those names.

But don't use an apostrophe for certain names, like Harrods and Barclays and Publishers Weekly. (Question: How do you know which names these are? Answer: Yes.)

Don't use an apostrophe for the possessive form of pronouns! Like hers and its and theirs. Use whose for possessive, not who's.

Except in Dr. Who's 50-year history.

Oh, and except for one, like the evil one's cunning plan.

For the possessive of plurals, add s and then the apostrophe, like dogs' breakfasts or The Smiths' or both Jameses' cars.

Unless the plural doesn't end in s. In that case, mark the plural possessive using apostrophe plus s, just like the singular, as in people's choice and women's march.

And use apostrophe plus s for the possessive of plurals of compounds, like my sons-in-law's cars and the states' attorneys general's responsibilities.

Add an apostrophe when you're talking about time spans ("quasi possessives"), like 6 months' experience.

But not if they're time spans but not quasi possessive: 4 months pregnant.

Don't add any apostrophe at all if the noun is acting as an adjective: A Coen Brothers Production.

This includes terms like teachers union or farmers market.

Carpenters union or carpenters' union? Toss-up.

Don't get these confused: it's Ladies' Room but Women's Room.

It's Mother's Day. Or maybe Mothers' Day? But definitely Veterans Day. See previous.

If the word seems plural-y but is used in a singular sort of way, just add an apostrophe to the s, not apostrophe plus s, like economics' failure and the species' characteristics and the United States' role.

But don't add an apostrophe to the United States Constitution.

Add an apostrophe, but not an s, in for…sake expressions: for goodness' sake.

Unless the word doesn't end in an s sound, in which case do add an apostrophe plus s: for expediency's sake.

Plurals never get apostrophes. It's oranges, not orange's.

Wait, do use an apostrophe for the plural of single letters, like p's and q's and dotting the i's.

And use an apostrophe to indicate decades, like the 1980's. Or don't: 1980s.

And if you do write 1980's, don't add an apostrophe if you're contracting the name of the decades, like the '80s.

Use an apostrophe if you're writing the plural for a term that includes periods, like two M.D.'s on staff.

Or if it would be confusing to leave them out, like do's and don'ts. Or do's and don't's? Or dos and don’ts?
Well, shoot. I just can't imagine why people don't get apostrophes right. The rules, as you can see, are perfectly clear.


With credit, and in some cases apologies, to the following:

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