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January 12, 2013 / Kelly

The THREE Ways to Use Apostrophes

Really?!? Yes, I will TOTALLY look to you for all of my future signage needs.

I get livid and admittedly judgmental when I see the use of ‘s to pluralize a word. Homemade signs are the most frequent offenders-especially those taped to the cash register or cooler door in a convenience store.

If I saw this sign in person, I would totally tear off the right side of the sign.

Some grammatical errors I can see the reasoning behind. here/hear and their/there/they’re at least sound alike and are actually real words!

But using ‘s as a way to pluralize, I don’t get. Does the curlycue of an apostrophe add flair? Is this error so pervasive that by seeing it so often it becomes implanted in the grammar toolbox storage in people’s brains? Are people that reliant on SpellCheck that hand writing an error-free sign is nearly impossible?


The ONLY Times to Use an Apostrophe

1. Show Possession of a Noun
• Used with the letter s
• David‘s saxamaphone
• Three sweaters’

2. Take the Place of Letter/s
• In contractions: were. What letter is missing? An a, correct! Or, it could be missing a w and e. Dun dunt duhhnn!

3. Make Numbers and Letters Plural
• Used with the letter s
• For example, I got all A‘s on my report card! There are four 2‘s in my phone number.

New slogan: We know pizza and nothin’ else!

Greengrocers' apostrophe 2

I’ll admit that I had to think about this for a few seconds (give me a break–it’s 3:30 in the morning), but it should read: Ladies’. Right? 🙂


I thought of a couple mnemonic devices for remembering the three times to use an apostrophe:
• 3 P’s (Possession, Place-taking, Plural)
• CON (Contractions, Ownership, Numbers)

Anyone have ideas for mnemonic devices for remembering this rule?

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8 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. writejudi / Jan 14 2013 1:49 am

    Yep. When in doubt, leave it out.

  2. professorgirl / Jan 13 2013 9:18 pm

    I agree with you, Judi. Like with commas–if you’re not positive what the rule is, just aim for clarity, which typically means fewer commas.

  3. professorgirl / Jan 13 2013 9:15 pm

    I don’t know! I need to look up is the part about pluralizing abbreviations and/or acronyms. What you said about the 1900s, etc. makes sense to me! I’ll look it up and see if I can figure this out.

  4. writejudi / Jan 13 2013 10:53 am

    Good explanation, but I do agree with Laura’s comment. That use of the apostrophe used to be common, but it’s fallen out of favor in most publications. The trend is definitely towards less punctuation rather than more.

  5. Laura / Jan 13 2013 8:52 am

    Everything I’ve read about apostrophes and plurals indicates that apostrophes should NOT be used to form the plural of an abbreviation or acronym, unless it’s needed for clarity. Thus, DVDs and CDs would be correct — without the apostrophe. The plural of single letters, however, usually includes the apostrophe for clarity, such as the Oakland A’s.

    As for numbers, the most common rule I’ve found is that no apostrophe is required for plurals. Thus, it’s the 1900s, not the 1900’s. This makes sense to me since the apostrophe can also be used to indicate the omission of numbers (not just letters), such as ’50s for 1950s.

    Perhaps the rules are different in academia?

  6. professorgirl / Jan 13 2013 3:12 am

    Thanks, bowiefan! I am not familiar with that song. I have Queen’s Greatest Hits album, but that’s not on it. I am now, however, in the mood to listen to Queen, so I’m starting off with “Somebody to Love.”

  7. professorgirl / Jan 13 2013 2:29 am

    Thanks for the comment! I’ll take a look at your site, for I do “enjoy writing.” 🙂

  8. Writer Jobs / Jan 13 2013 1:27 am

    Great post. Thank you so much for sharing. You have an excellent writing style here. It really shows. Have a great day.

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