Posted by: Jack Henry | September 28, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Apostrophe Reboot

My friend Samuel D. and I were discussing apostrophe usage recently. Sam is seeing more and more people using the term “driver license” rather than the correct term “driver’s license.” The latter is considered correct because of the apostrophe rule about possessive nouns: the license belongs to the driver, so an apostrophe is necessary to show possession. It is a driver’s license.

We’ve covered apostrophe usage a few times, but I still get a lot of questions, so I think it’s time for a refresher.

The rules about apostrophes are easier than you might think. There are only two uses: to form contractions and to form possessions. Let’s look at each.

Apostrophes with Conractions

Contractions are used to shortened words or groups of words. You simply use the apostrophe in place of missing letters:

  • Cannot becomes can’t
  • She would becomes she’d
  • They are becomes they’re
  • Let us becomes let’s
  • You all becomes y’all

It works the same for numbers:

  • The 1990s becomes the ‘90s

Apostrophes with Possessives

I think this is where most people get confused because there is some variation. Here are the rules:

  • For most singular nouns, add the apostrophe and an s:
    • That is my brother’s bike. [dbb – I’m talking about one brother and his bike.]
  • For most plural nouns, add only an apostrophe:
    • Those are my brothers’ bikes. [dbb – I’m talking about two or more brothers and their bikes.]
  • For plural nouns that do not end in s (irregular plural nouns) add the apostrophe and an s:
    • Pick up the children’s toys.
  • For singular nouns that end in s, the rule varies depending on what style guide you follow. We follow the Chicago Manual of Style, which says to add the apostrophe and an s:
    • Kansas’s claim to fame is its sweet, tangy barbecue sauce.
    • Chris’s jacket is plaid.

That’s the crux of it, folks. There is just one more thing you need to remember—you do not need an apostrophe for plural nouns that are not possive:

  • The Burchers are in.
  • Her dogs have a lot of toys.
  • Some editors are introverts.

And now for a cartoon and some apostrophe fails:

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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