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May 2013 Volume 9 Issue 5

The Write Stuff

May 2013  Volume 9 Issue 5

Apostrophes: An Endangered Species?


It never ceases to amaze me when writers fail to use proper punctuation in an attempt to “simplify” their copy. In particular, eliminating commas or apostrophes seem to be popular choices.


In case you haven’t already figured it out–since the headline certainly gave it away–I’m going to focus on apostrophes this month. This topic appealed to me after I read a recent Wall Street Journal article noting that the Domestic Names Committee of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names doesn’t like apostrophes; it’s granted only five possessive apostrophes, i.e., Martha’s Vineyard, since 1900.


In fact, showing possession is one of the two reasons to use an apostrophe:

  • Adrienne’s nephew
  • The car’s features
  • The Cubs’ futility

Note that in the case of the third bullet, the possessive apostrophe is modifying a plural word, so it’s placed outside the “s.”


The second reason to use an apostrophe is as part of a contraction, where the apostrophe takes the place of the eliminated letter(s):

  • Don’t
  • It’s (always short for “it is” or “it has”; the possessive is “its”)
  • I’m

I realize in this age of texts and e-mails, writers are constantly trying to shorten their messages, but I don’t think apostrophes should be a casualty. Their elimination makes copy more challenging to read, as the tongue-in-cheek headline to the aforementioned WSJ article demonstrates: “Theres a Question Mark Hanging Over the Apostrophes Future; Its Practically Against the Law to Use the Mark in a Places Name–Sorry Pikes Peak.”

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