The apostrophe likes to walk on the wild side. They're these teeny, tiny punctuation marks that are majorly misused every single day. Apostrophes are used to indicate possession for nouns, but not pronouns (i.e. its, whose, and your). They're also friends to the contraction (i.e. it's, they're, who's, and you're).
Possession and contraction. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, don't be fooled by this little guy; the apostrophe trips up millions of people all day, every day. It gets inserted into words it shouldn't be in or omitted from words it should be in all the time. We're going to show you when NOT to use an apostrophe, and make sure you don't join the ranks of English-language speakers who often confuse its (not it's) primary purpose.
Contractions were created to make things easier. They tighten up two words into one, offering an evasion from redundancy and over-usage. In the end, that didn't go so well, as contractions are regularly misprinted in writing all across the globe. Let's take a look:
In the land of texting, where we shorten "you" to "u", it's no surprise that we often skip the apostrophe, turning it's to its. Of course, it's should be used as a contraction of it is, while its is only used to show possession.
Any time you have an it's or an its in your writing, double-check the sentence. If you can say "it is" in its place, then you DO need the apostrophe. If its is showing something has possession or ownership of something, then you do NOT need an apostrophe and using its is correct.
Here's another misunderstood contraction. Here, we have who's, contraction of who is, and whose, a personal pronoun.
If you can use "who is" instead of who's in the sentence the apostrophe stays. If there's an E on the end of "whose" do NOT use an apostrophe.
Just in case we didn't drive the contraction thing home yet, let's look at one more common error that makes every editor, professor, and book aficionado cringe.
Similar to the its vs. it's premise, just double-check your sentences. If you can say "you are" in its place, then keep the apostrophe hanging. If it is showing possession (your dog, your usage), you do NOT want to use an apostrophe.
If you're talking about something in a certain place (there) or something that belongs to people (their) you do NOT need to use an apostrophe.
Everyone loves a hot debate, right? Well, this is the hottest one in town! Do you put an apostrophe after dates like those above? Well, there's really no need for such heated conversation, as you only have to ask yourself three quick questions. Is it a contraction? Is it indicating something missing? Is it showing possession? Let's take a look:
In this case, the only time you would NOT use an apostrophe is when the date is plural.
Store signs have been notorious over the years for grammar errors. What's wrong with these signs?
Bob's Cheesesteak's and Cubano's
Smith's Greengrocer's: The Best in Town
Often, apostrophes mistakenly find their way into plurals. Remember, if it's a contraction or a possession, only then are apostrophes on the guest list. So, the signs above should read:
Bob's Cheesesteaks and Cubanos
Smith's Greengrocers: The Best in Town
If, however, a plural noun needs to show possession, then it's time for the apostrophe to come on over. An apostrophe showing the possessive on a plural needs to go after the S that is making the word plural. So it would be acceptable to say:
Bob's secret is in his cheesesteaks' sauce.
Or, it could reference a singular cheesesteak and say:
Bob's secret is in his cheesesteak's sauce.
The point is: no possession, no apostrophe.
Apostrophes are finicky little things that only like to express their jubilation when the timing is right. So, only two occasions will give them cause to hop out into the limelight: contractions and noun possessions. If we can all remember that, then we're one step closer to becoming apostrophe aficionados, and who wouldn't like a title like that?
Read our article on Using Contractions Correctly for more help on those shortened words and don't forget to post a comment or question about using apostrophes below.