Bob has asked me to contribute a guest post that fits this theme of writing tips, so I thought I’d address a type of error that always makes me squirm: the incorrect use of the apostrophe.
For some reason, this is one of the most common types of mistakes I see. And getting a handle on the apostrophe can actually be quite simple.
The source of confusion is that in English, apostrophes are used for contraction as well as possession, and sometimes, also, for plurals.
But there are two simple factors that clarify this.
Factor the first: consistency
English is a language that seems to have more exceptions than rules. But when it comes to pronouns, the apostrophe always indicates a contraction. In other words, the apostrophe replaces a letter or two.
That means the respective homonyms without apostrophes are possessive.
Factor the second: apostrophes do not indicate plural
We’ve all seen apostrophe-s used to make a noun plural.
I hope you do what I do: I always carry a red pen to correct them.
I can understand some of the confusion. When I was growing up in the age of steam, many used apostrophes to pluralize single letters or symbols used as words in text and other unusual cases. For example:
While this makes sense when you listen to the pronunciation, it leads to confusion. So when I first became an editor, the new idea was to use italics to set off characters used as words and eliminate the apostrophe. To wit:
The change will take some getting used to, but I think it will reduce confusion among non-professional writers.
What do you think? By being careful about using apostrophes in combination with pronouns, can we writers bring about change and increase understanding, at least in this small way?