How to use apostrophes - Apostrophe Knife
Wondering how to use apostrophes properly? You’re not the only one. The sight of a ‘s’ at the end of a word can throw many people into a panic. They blindly hurl an apostrophe at the slithering s as if it were a knife keeping a venomous snake at bay.

As a copywriter, I need to know where to place that pesky comma. But with a little training you too can become an Apostrophe Knife Ninja. A huge thanks to my English teacher Mrs Hunter for her wise words of advice.

Why do we use apostrophes?

The missing link

Apostrophes can show that a letter or letters are missing – for example ‘couldn’t’ instead of ‘could not’. In this case the ‘knife’ of the apostrophe has cut away a letter.

You could try not to do this, but you would start to sound like a character from one the novels of a certain Jane Austen, would you not?

Possession – the smell of it

If you want to show that someone or something owns something else, you use an apostrophe. Imagine using the ‘apostrophe knife’ to pin down the thing that is owned.

Before or after the s?

For one person, the apostrophe is before the ‘s’ – for example Charlotte’s web

For more than one person, the apostrophe is after the ‘s’ – such as the farmers’ market

Top tip – The Long Black Line

Just imagine lengthening the apostrophe downwards in a long line.

Anything left of the line owns anything to the right. So:

Charlotte's web
Charlotte | web = web belongs to Charlotte
Farmers' market
Farmers | market = market belonging to the farmers

This really helps when working out phrases such as ‘children’s playground’ rather than ‘childrens’ playground’.

Its or it’s?

Its without an apostrophe

No apostrophe? Then ‘its’ means ‘belonging to it’ like hers and theirs. For example:

Its Turkish Delight-flavoured icecream is a delight.*

It’s with an apostrophe

shows the missing letters of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’, such as:

It's been ages since Mrs Hunter taught me, but her lessons have stuck!

Your or you’re?

Your means belonging to you as in:

Your icecream looks really tasty.

You’re indicates a missing letter ‘a’ in you are. For example:

You're going to be sorry if you try to nick my icecream.

Put away the knife

You don’t need to use apostrophes for decades or plurals. For example:

VIPs in the 1980s had really big hair.

You say tomatoe’s, I say noooooooo!

Congratulations, you are now an Apostrophe Knife Ninja. Just try to keep your frustrations to yourself when passing grocery stalls and browsing restaurant menus. Maybe I should have warned you that mastery of the Apostrophe Knife can be a double-edged sword.

*Turkish Delight-flavoured icecream is available from Balderson’s in Thornton-le-Dale, North Yorkshire. Other delicious flavours are also available. Ink Gardener Copywriting takes no responsibility for any weight gained because of this blog.

About your instructor

Helen Reynolds of Ink Gardener Copywriting helps profits bloom by pruning overgrown websites and writing fresh Google-friendly content for UK heritage, hospitality and small businesses. With a no-nonsense, affordable approach and more than 20 years’ experience writing for the web. and moving web content onto shiny new websites.

Based in York but with clients across the UK. Just get in touch if you need help with your website.