How to use apostrophes - Apostrophe Knife
Wondering how to use apostrophes properly? You’re not the only one. As a copywriter, I need to know where to place that pesky comma. But with a little training you too can become an Apostrophe 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 the novels of a certain Jane Austen, would you not?

Possession

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?

Talking about something being owned by someone?

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 honeycomb 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 steal 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 Ninja. Just try to keep your frustrations to yourself when passing grocery stalls and browsing restaurant menus.

*Honeycomb 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 the author

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