Spotlight on: Proofreading - the Apostrophe

Posted on 15th February 2019

A red pen sat on a sheet of paper where a professional proofreader has made corrections with the same pen.

'You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.' 

How true is that? 

Yet many small business owners commit to print or screen documents, blogs, posts and other articles containing errors. 

Grammar, punctuation and spelling aren't everyone's strength. I recognise this and completely understand it. Correct use of the apostrophe, semicolon and spelling is never going to make thrilling conversation at a dinner party. However, they are important to get right if you want to look professional. The worst-case scenario is that a badly punctuated sentence (or no punctuation at all) can completely change the meaning. Sometimes this can have quite funny consequences, but in business, the consequences could be quite serious or damaging, so it's worth getting right.

A drawing of a grandma and an example beside it of how the meaning of a sentence can be changed with poor punctuation.

I've put together a few tips to help you on your way. In this blog, I'm going to start with the dreaded apostrophe.

The apostrophe has several different functions, so grab a coffee, wine, beer or whatever's your tipple, and let's go!


When certain letters have been left out, the apostrophe is used to replace them.

Examples of this are:

You are -> you're
Did not -> didn't

Contractions are usually considered a less formal way of writing, so think carefully about whether you're going to use them in your document and be consistent.


The apostrophe is also used to show possession.  However, it's not quite as simple as that!  Here are a few guidelines:

For most singular nouns, add the apostrophe + s:

The cat's whiskers
The dog's bone

For most plural nouns, just add the apostrophe:

The cats' whiskers
The dogs' bone

OK, now it gets a bit more complicated. 

When the plural doesn't end in s, you must add apostrophe + s:

The children's toys
The people's clothes

Still with me?

That's good because I'm going to complicate things a little further with a 'grey area.' Style guides vary as to what you should do with a proper noun (i.e. a name) which ends in s. Some say you should just add the apostrophe, whilst others say it should be apostrophe + s:

Charles Dickens' novels
Charles Dickens's novels

The main thing is to be consistent throughout your document.

However, this leads me to an important point - don't spend too long scratching your head over something. If you're really not sure, look at changing the structure of your sentence slightly:

The novels of Charles Dickens

There's nothing wrong with that!

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive (or personal) pronouns do not use the apostrophe, and this often leads to confusion.

Yours, hers, its, ours and theirs seem to 'trip people up' the most. None use the apostrophe. In fact, adding an apostrophe may even form a contraction and change the meaning completely:

Joint Possession

When writing about something belonging to more than one person, only make the final name possessive:

Bill and Ben's bike

In this instance, Bill and Ben share the bike. If they were to own a bike each, both names must be possessive (and the noun would also be plural):

Bill's and Ben's bikes
The Apostrophe and Plurals

This is where mistakes commonly arise, but it looks pretty bad, so be careful! Apostrophes are rarely used to form a plural. The only instance (that I can think of) where they are used to form a plural is the plural of a lower case letter (otherwise, the meaning would be too difficult to read):

Don't forget to dot the is and cross the ts
Don't forget to dot the i's and cross the t's

The plural of an upper case letter should not have an apostrophe as there is no such difficulty:

It is important to read the Ts and Cs

Have you finished that tipple yet? I did warn you!

If you feel you'd like help in checking a document over, please feel free to contact me for a quotation; I'd be happy to help.

Back To Blog »
© Copyright 2024 Lummus VSWebsite design by Toolkit Websites