THOSE of you who’ve been following me for a while will know I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to apostrophes. You’ll also know I’m passionate about helping you to #UnleashYourAwesome. Whatever your personal view on the written word, if you’re putting stuff out online, or in your marketing materials, with shoddy punctuation, you’ll turn a lot of people off. 

You might argue that it doesn’t matter, or that it’s the energy that counts, not the grammar, but those arguments won’t hold water with a fairly sizeable chunk of your audience. Like it or not, there are a lot of people who will question how much care you put into the rest of your work if you can’t be bothered to sort out your punctuation, and it’s usually the humble apostrophe that trips people up.

ApostrophesMemeThose of you who have followed me for a while, or who’ve read up on my background, will know I was a journalist and editor long before I discovered the wonderful world of empowerment. This means I use ‘journalese’ a lot, and I’m not really that hardline (for “hardline” read: “I don’t have a stick up my arse”) when it comes to the proper use of the English language. That said, I do have a bit of a geeky passion for apostrophes, and it does make me shudder when I see memes and marketing materials with apostrophes in the wrong place, or missing.

So, in this blog, I’m going to help you #UnleashYourAwesome apostrophe skills and understand, once and for all, how to use them, where to use them and why they’re important. It’ll be really easy. Promise.

Apostrophes are punctuation marks used to show ownership or contraction. I’m not sure why, but they seem to cause more confusion than any other commonly used punctation mark. So. let’s demystify them, shall we?

How to use apostrophes for contractions

Okay, I’m going to start with the fun part. This is usually where people cock up on memes and adverts. It’s where all the messy apostrophe use really starts to form a huge, steaming pile of apostrophe poo, and it’s where I start jumping up and down and pulling my hair out. If you’re confused, don’t worry – they’re, their, there – we’ll have you all sorted out in a jiffy.

So, a contraction is when you join two words together and use the apostrophe to replace the missing letter, or letters. It’s the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.

  • you are = you’re
  • they are = they’re
  • we are = we’re
  • cannot = can’t
  • I have = I’ve
  • is not = isn’t
  • it is = it’s

People commonly get mixed up over:

  • their (something that belongs to – i.e.: it was their dog), there (denotes placement  – it was over there) and they’re (a contraction of they are).
  • your (something that belongs to you – your name is, move your bike) and you’re (a contraction of you are).
  • its / it’s – people often get confused over possession with ‘its’. Park it. Stop worrying. If the car has new brakes, even if you try to argue that the brakes belong to the car, it would be “the car has its new brakes” (actually, you don’t need ‘its’ in that sentence at all – it’s just to demonstrate the point). The car’s an object. It doesn’t own things. For simplicity, only use an apostrophe in ‘its’ if it’s a contraction of ‘it is’. Hope that clears things up!


Generally (there are a few exceptions), words are made plural by adding an ‘s’ or ‘es’ at the end. Plural simply means there’s more than one of them. So:

  • coach = coaches
  • reader = readers
  • group = groups

People sometimes get confused by trying to pluralise a word by adding an apostrophe. Don’t do it. Apostrophes are not used to make a word plural. Not even if we’re using an acronym, so it’s DVDs, not DVD’s.

Simple possession

Don’t panic – it doesn’t mean the rest of the blog will be complicated! Simple possession means that if a noun (the name of something) in a sentence belongs to another noun in the sentence, you’ll need to use an apostrophe and an ‘s’ to show ownership.

  • The iPhone that belongs to the manager = The manager’s iPhone
  • The van that belonged to the charity = The charity’s van
  • The determination of the people = The people’s determination
  • The decision of the boss = The boss’s decision

If the plural ends with an ‘s’, you can just add the apostrophe on its own. So, you could have

  • Ten years’ experience
  • The students’ assignments

Compound Possession

This is the term used when two or more people own a single item. So, if Kate and Steve share one car, for instance, the apostrophe would be placed after the last person’s name:

  • That is Kate and Steve’s car.

If, however, Kate and Steve had a car each, they’d each have their own apostrophe:

  • Those are Kate’s and Steve’s cars.

Without getting overly geeky, that’s about all. Has it helped? I hope so. Look forward to seeing you unleash your awesome online… and, now you understand how to use apostrophes, you can unleash – you’re awesome!





    1. Thanks Jo. Some really do find it difficult, so I’m hoping this might help. It’s not rocket science, but then neither was GCSE chemistry, and I was really crap at that 😉 x

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