Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Apostrophe - 3 Basic Tenets

The words written in purple saying The Purple Pen about editing writing

The apostrophe is also a tricky one, and it baffles even the best of us. So let’s take a look at how we can simplify it.  Here are the 3 basic tenets to go by.

1) Use an apostrophe when abbreviating two words:

For example:

Let’s – Let us

We’ve – We have

They’re – They are

Would’ve – Would have

2) Use an apostrophe for possession of an item/object, such as:

John’s hat
Mark’s coat

With the exception of the word ‘it'.

And pronouns such as: his, hers, theirs, whose, ours, yours – but NOT one’s.

Simplifying the whole ‘it’ thing:

The only time ‘it’ has an apostrophe is when you are abbreviating the two words: ‘it is’ or ‘it has’ (Tenet 1)

That right there is really all you need to know, but to explain further, when you write the word ‘it’ and the following word means the ‘it’ owns the item, or the item belongs to ‘it’, then there is NO apostrophe:

Its fur was ruffled

It raised its head

The store had its own coffee shop inside

Got it? 

But then it gets tricky when we pluralise words.

3) Use only an apostrophe with words ending in 's' when showing possession:

The standard tenet is: anything ending in ‘s’ should have only the apostrophe, and not the letter ‘s’ after it as well.

BUT – this can be optional depending on the type of word.

Names like James or Lucas, which end in an ‘s’ but are singular words, can be James’ or Lucas’, OR James’s or Lucus’s.

This is your choice – or your publishing houses’ choice if you are traditionally published.

Did you notice that houses’ there? In this instance the word is plural already (as in more than one publishing house), and needs the possessive added (the choice belongs to them), thus it is a plural word and a possessive word and goes by the standard tenet.

Are you catching my drift on this?

The Tardis’ door was ajar. – can also be Tardis’s door was ajar.

Hogwarts’ main tower – can also be Hogwarts’s main tower.

The shop assistants’ duties – can only be this option
(more than one assistant, and their duties – plural & possessive.)

All the technicians’ tools – can only be this option
(more than one technician, and their tools – plural & possessive)

Tricky ones are these:

Two weeks’ - plural and possessive

This week’s – possessive only

Same with money and time:

Last year’s – possessive only

Ten dollars’ worth (amount is plural and possessive)

Is it Whose or Who’s?

Pluralising the word Who still confuses people, but the tenets apply here too.

Who’s is an abbreviation of two words: who is (or who has).

Whose means it belongs to that person.

Whose is this? – meaning who does this item belong to – possessive.

Who’s this? – meaning ‘who is this’ – abbreviation of two words.

Simplifying it by considering what you are writing: if it is not ‘who is, or who has’, then it should be ‘whose’.

John told them about Melissa, whose mother had given them all a cookie – possessive

John’s boss Steve, who’s the General Manager of IMB, came in late. – abbreviation of who is

(And yes, I still had to think about that second example too!)

I hope that clears things up for you, rather than muddies the waters!

If you know of any other rules, let me know in the comments below.

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