Apostrophes, those little commas in the air, are a fairly misunderstood punctuation mark. Time and time again, writers try to use apostrophes to make things plural. But be it a name, date, or abbreviation, apostrophes are not used to make words plural. But plurals, of course, are an entirely different article.
Apostrophes have two primary purposes.
Apostrophes are used to show ownership. Without apostrophes, we’d have some very awkward phrasing to contend with every time we wanted to show possession. Take the following sentence for example:
The dog of Barb is barking.
Not the most flowing sentence, is it? Perhaps if we lived a few hundred years ago and we were talking about some royal object, this sentence may work. But in today’s world, it just wouldn’t fly. That’s where apostrophes come in.
Barb’s dog is barking.
Using an apostrophe plus the letter “s” indicates possession. That is, if the subject of the sentence (Barb) is singular. But what if we were talking about a plural subject? Let’s take a look:
The pilgrims’ ship was made of wood.
Since the plural subject ends in the letter “s”, we simply add an apostrophe.
Where a lot of people get confused is when we have a singular subject that ends with an “s.” Here’s an example:
The dog of Mr. Jones is barking.
Here are two ways that this can be written.
Mr. Jones’s dog is barking.
Mr. Jones’ dog is barking.
The preferred way is the first way since “Mr. Jones” is singular. Grammatical rules can bend here since the word does end with an “s.”
If the subject is plural and ends in “s”, then you can simply add the apostrophe.
The Joneses’ dog is barking.
It looks a bit strange, but it is correct. The strange part is most likely due to the fact that most people do not typically talk about people’s last names as plural. Once you get past that, the logic still follows.
Apostrophes are also used to make contractions. When two words are combined and letters are omitted, an apostrophe holds the place of the missing letters.
are + not = aren’t
is + not = isn’t
This same logic applies when shortening words.
you + all = y’all
Also, this is useful when shortening words to slang.
them to ’em
Apostrophes are truly a rather simple form of punctuation. When used correctly, they can make your writing shorter and more conversational.