I just saw a magazine refer to its “reader’s” and “advertiser’s.” Obviously the editor (who should know better) does not understand the apostrophe at all.
The episode reminded me of this article I wrote several years ago about the apostrophe. I hope you find it helpful.
Help! Call me old-fashioned, but I believe spelling, grammar and punctuation are important.
Which is why I’m on a one-woman crusade to save the apostrophe.
The apostrophe is absolutely the most misused punctuation mark, and the most common error is the use of “it’s” for “its.” Fortunately, the distinction is fairly easy to master.
“Its” means “possessive” or, to put it in non-grammar-school lingo, “its” refers to something that belongs to something or somebody else. “The box was missing its top.” The top belongs to the box.
“It’s” means “it is.” “It is warm outside” translates to “it’s warm outside.” The apostrophe takes the place of the letter “i” in “is.”
How can you remember this? Two ways.
First, Barbara Lewis of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan points out that “its” is similar to the other possessives (“his” and “hers”), which do not take apostrophes either.
Second, just read the sentence replacing “its” with “it is.” If it makes sense, add the apostrophe. If it doesn’t make sense, omit the apostrophe.
Note: this rule only works for the “its” and “it’s” distinction. All other “possessives” need apostrophes. So it’s “the company’s product” (not the companys product).
A few more tips
With only one exception, plurals do not need apostrophes, whether the plurals are figures (“the 1990s”), multiple letters (e.g., “ABCs,” “PDAs” and “CDs”) or words (e.g., “menus”).
Use an apostrophe if you’re abbreviating years (e.g., “the ’90s”) and to make a single letter plural (e.g., “p’s and q’s”). Otherwise you risk having the letter misunderstood as a word. It is theOakland”A’s,” not theOakland”As.”
And, for additional information, the Apostrophe Protection Society has the “specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much-abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English language.” For more information, visit http://www.apostrophe.org.uk/
Susan Monroe says
I love the apostrophe and do (I think) a pretty good job of using it correctly. Nothing is more annoying than seeing “CEO’s” when the author is really referring to more than one CEO.
Now, what can we do about the hyphen? It seems to be rapidly disappearing. Yes, I’m sure it can be overused, but there’s something disconcerting, for example, about seeing “enterprisewide” as an adjective, without a hyphen between “enterprise” and “wide.”