For such a tiny punctuation mark, the apostrophe has an enormous tendency to confuse and irritate people.
The reaction to this all-too-common frustration is generally one of two extremes. The first is to try to cut them out altogether (as Birmingham council recently planned to do). The alternative is to start sprinkling them as liberally as an overzealous Italian waiter sprinkles black pepper. Then, at least, a few of them are likely to hit the right spot.
The problem with such excessive â or minimal â seasoning is that the overall effect of the dish (or document) will be compromised, or even completely undermined.
One of the apostropheâs key jobs is to show possession. More specifically, it shows who possesses something. And identifying the âwhoâ in the sentence will make inserting the apostrophe and the -s (if needed â see below) that much simpler: just look to the end of the âwhoâ word, and add them afterwards. For example:
The catâs top hat and bow-tie were very distinguished.
Here thereâs clearly one well-dressed cat. But if there were two, or more, such dapper felines, each with their own outfits, it would be:
The catsâ dinner jackets and fob watches were to die for.
Youâll notice that thereâs no need for an extra -s when the âwhoâ in possession is made plural. Though with a word that is inherently plural, you would. So:
The childrenâs catsâ dress sense was not to everyoneâs taste.
So far, so straightforward. But there are a few points of potential confusion left yet.
This is actually quite simple. Possessive pronouns (yours, whose, his, hers, theirs) will never need an apostrophe, because they donât need any extra help to show possession. You might say:
Whose apostrophe? Certainly not yours.
âItsâ meaning âbelonging to itâ can also be put in the pronoun category: it doesnât need an apostrophe. Itâs entirely understandable to assume it would, by following the rule laid out above, but âitâsâ always means âit isâ or âit hasâ â where the apostrophe indicates the contraction (missed out letters).
When a name ends in âs, such as James, Tess or Emphasis, it may not be necessary to include the âs after the apostrophe. Rhythm is the secret here, and sometimes either way is fine. Generally, try saying the phrase aloud to see what sounds best (and what doesnât make you sound like a snake with a stutter). For example:
Tessâs favourite route to work was down St Jamesâs street. Mind you, Emphasisâ top-notch trainers make it clear that it could also be written St Jamesâ street.