The naughty apostrophe

The bane of an editor’s life is to walk into a department store or see an advertisement on TV or in the newspaper (or online!) that is a victim of the naughty apostrophe. This apostrophe likes to turn CDs and DVDs into CD’s and DVD’s. It likes to make a possessive  its into it’s and do other nasty things like mixing up plural possessives with singular. Alas, it is the English language that can be held partly to blame. Let’s begin with our new high tech CDs and DVDs. To avoid confusion, we do use an apostrophe in cases such as dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s. Otherwise you would mistake it for is and ts,  which can only have readers scratching their heads. But there is no confusion when pluralising CD to CDs, for example,  and therefore the usual rule of plurals applies.

When I was just out of school, I often made the common mistake of confusing its and it’s. Until I learned the simple solution. While nouns take an apostrophe in the possessive form before the s, pronouns do not. But usually the pronoun changes form, for example, from he to his, you to your. However, when it comes to its, the adding of the s comes without an apostrophe. The simple answer is it’s always is a contraction of either it is or it has.

The whole process takes on another level of difficulty with people when they encounter the possessive forms of singular and plural nouns, and nouns already ending in s. Take this example for instance: The dog ate  the cat’s food. Or: The dog ate the cats’ food. The first example refers to just one cat, and therefore the apostrophe comes before the s, but in the second case, there are more than one cat, and therefore the apostrophe comes after the s.

Now consider the following examples: The Jones’s house is down the road. The Camerons’ house is around the next corner. The first already ends with s and in most modern styles these days comes with the apostrophe then s, although in some house styles, it is still just an apostrophe and no s. In the second instance, the name of the people is Cameron, and since we speak about the family, we add an s for plural, then an apostrophe. Some editors may also argue in favour of Joneses’ house for the first example.

What happens if we make a possessive of a plural noun. Usually we add an s apostrophe  but some nouns have a specific plural form, such as children, which then takes apostrophe before the s.

You can imagine how this can muddle a lot of people’s thinking. Food for thought.

A Twitter friend asked about Whose and Who’s. Examples will demonstrate the difference: e.g. Whose car is that? and Who’s the person driving that car? The first is a possessive of car which could be turned around to say: That car belongs to who? The second example applies the contraction of Who is.

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