September 24 is National Punctuation Day, which celebrates the importance of good punctuation.
This seems like a great time to focus on the most mis-used punctuation mark, the apostrophe.
The most common apostrophe error is the use of “it’s” for “its.” Fortunately, the distinction is easy to master.
“Its” means “possessive” or, to put it in non-grammatical language, “its” refers to something that belongs to something else. “The box was missing its top.” The top belongs to the box.
“It’s” means “it is.” “It’s warm outside” translates to “it is warm outside.” The apostrophe takes the place of the letter “i” in “is.”
How can you remember this? Two ways.
First, “its” is similar to the other possessive adjectives (“his” and “hers”), which do not take apostrophes.
Second, read the sentence replacing “its” with “it is.” If it makes sense, add the apostrophe. If it doesn’t make sense, omit the apostrophe.
Two more tips
With only one exception, plurals do not need apostrophes, whether the plurals are figures (“the 1990s”), multiple letters (e.g., “ABCs”) 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’s “A’s,” not “As.”
If so, I invite you to check out the other writing and punctuation tips in this blog, including The Rule of Three, Ignore These Writing and Editing Tips, and Is it One Word or Two?.