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Manuscript 101–The Apostrophe’s Dilemma

Monday, June 4, 2007

There is a little punctuation mark that has a giant dilemma: the apostrophe. Little Apostrophe likes to hang around in contractions and possessives, but many times gets thrown into places where he doesn’t like to be—especially plurals. Little Apostrophe doesn’t understand why people insist on forcing him into places he doesn’t want to go. Let’s find out how to protect Little Apostrophe . . .

1. Contractions and abbreviations: Apostrophes are used when two words are joined together and/or when letters are omitted (contractions such as can’t, won’t, didn’t, ’tis and abbreviations such as ’em, ’07, or ’99). When the apostrophe comes at the beginning of the word (as in ’tis), the opening of the curve goes toward the letters that have been omitted. This differentiates it from a single quote mark. 

don’t—contraction of do not. The apostrophe replaces the letter (o). (Bedford 36c, CMS 7.31)

rock ’n’ roll—abbreviation of and. The apostrophes replace the (a) and the (d). (Bedford 36c, CMS 7.31)

’tis—the apostrophe would be pointing toward the omitted letter (i) to form the contraction for it is. (Bedford 36c, CMS 7.31)

’07—the apostrophe would be pointing toward the omitted numbers (20) to indicate the shortened form of the year 2007. (Bedford 36c, CMS 9.34)

2. Possessives: This is another area where I saw a lot of people struggle gramatically in the Genesis contest. According to the CMS “general rule” (7.17)– “The possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s, and the possessive of plural nouns (except for a few irregular plurals that do not end in s) by adding an apostrophe only.” Before adding an apostrophe or an —’s to the word, please examine the word to make sure it’s singular or plural first. (CMS 7.17–7.18.)

This is Jones’s dog / This is the Joneses’ dog (the first indicates there is only one Jones, the second that there are two or more Joneses who own the dog—the confusing thing is that both are pronounced the same when spoken).

This is the childrens’ first play date / This is the children’s first play date (the first is just completely wrong, because children is already plural, therefore, adding an –s before the apostrophe is incorrect)

It’s so easy, it’s child’s play.

(See CMS 7.19–7.22 for exceptions)

3. Plurals: Apostrophes are never, never, never, never, never, never used to create plurals*. Plurals are formed by adding an –s or –es (or –ies for words that end with y) to the end of the word (for the most part—there are those that completely change form when made plural, like women and children)—even when they are proper names or single capital letters. Don’t apologize for adding an –s to a word by feeling you have to put in an apostrophe. Be bold! Just add the –s! For example:

Keeping up with the Joneses

We’re taking the kids to the beach.

The Jacksons live here.

The three Rs: reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic. (what educator ever came up with that?)

the 1990s, the 1800s, I Love the ’80s.

even abbreviations: vols. (for volumes), eds. (for editions)

no ifs, ands, or buts

The Dos and Don’ts of Networking

yesses and nos

*Exception: Okay, so there are two very rare instances when you would use an apostrophe to create a plural: with lowercase letters (dot your i’s and cross your t’s) and with abbreviations that have internal periods or use both captial and lowercase letters (M.A.’s, Ph.D’s—though the trend is toward omitting the periods, so in this case these would become MAs and PhD’s–with the apostrophe with the second due to the lowercase h). See CMS 7.14–7.16 for further examples and explanations.

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  1. Tuesday, June 5, 2007 8:33 am

    It’s the plural possessives that do me in every time. Sigh.


  2. Tuesday, June 5, 2007 8:40 am

    I think I do okay with the apostrophe. I follow all the rules listed…that’s always a good sign.



  3. Tuesday, June 5, 2007 11:53 am

    Always get tripped up by single possessives that where the noun ends in s. Rule above goes completely against what I learned in grade school, where the extra s was not needed.


  4. snowffairy permalink
    Tuesday, June 5, 2007 2:21 pm

    Maybe this question belongs under your (as yet) unwritten post on quotation marks, but:

    While I know punctuation belongs inside the quote marks, I find myself frequently leaving them on the outside, b/c I use other people’s words to say things, and I don’t want to imply my punctuation was in the original quote.

    I’m sorry I don’t have a good example on tap. Hmmm…

    “The guitar is the most versatile instrument in the world”?

    To me is different than

    “The guitar is the most versatile instrument in the world?”

    (Sorry, best I could do just now.)

    Are there any rules that address this issue?


  5. Tuesday, June 5, 2007 2:22 pm


    Sorry, that was me. Forgot I was logged in to wordpress.



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