Recently, my wife and I attended a community festival, and we enjoyed sampling the food at the various booths. One vendor in particular caught my attention because his main sign read, “Tom’s Snack Shack,” and below that professional sign, Tom had handwritten the following small sign for that particular event: “Today were selling deep fried cookie’s.”
That big, printed sign and that small, scribbled sign both intrigued me because they highlighted the basic thought to keep in mind as you decide when to use apostrophes in your writing; sometimes, you need them, and sometimes, you don’t.
Apostrophes needed. Basically, you need apostrophes in only two situations: first, when you want to show possession, and, second, when you want to indicate that certain letters have been omitted when you use contractions.
- Possession. The main sign at this food booth was punctuated properly, and that sign indicated clearly that the “Snack Shack” belonged to Tom. Most people use apostrophes correctly in similar situations when they want to indicate that one person owns one particular item: “Mary’s car, Steve’s dog, or Susie’s computer.” These same people, however, sometimes get confused when the owner’s name ends in the letter “s” or when they want to indicate multiple owners of the item or items.
The owner’s name ends in the letter “s.” Most names don’t end in the letter “s,” but when they do, the regular possessive form sounds odd: “Jesus’s mother” or “Moses’s robe.” As a result, many grammar handbooks suggest you omit the final “s” and simply write “Jesus’ mother” or “Moses’ robe.”
Multiple owners. If Jack and Jill drive up a hill in one car, you would only need one apostrophe to write “Jack and Jill’s car.” However, if both of them drive their own cars up the hill, you would need two apostrophes to write “Jack’s and Jill’s cars.” Also, the number of owners of one item will indicate where the apostrophe needs to be located. If one girl owns one car, you would write “the girl’s car” (with the apostrophe before the letter “s”), but if two girls jointly own one car, you would write “the girls’ car” (with the apostrophe after the letter “s”).
Again, you could eliminate the letter “s” after the apostrophe because it would sound odd. Finally, if multiple girls own multiple cars, you would simply make the word “car” plural and write “the girls’ cars.”
2. Letters have been omitted. As Tom was writing his last-minute sign, he decided to use the contraction “we’re” instead of “we are.” In his haste, unfortunately, he forgot to use the apostrophe to indicate the missing letter “a.” Again, most people understand this rule, and they correctly punctuate the common contractions: “I’m” for “I am”; “You’ve” for “You have”; “They’re” for “They are”; “it’s” for “it is”; and “didn’t” for “did not.”
Apostrophes not needed. Some people are tempted to add the apostrophe whenever they add the letter “s” to a singular word, but the apostrophe is never needed to indicate the plural form. Thus, Tom did not need to insert an apostrophe to highlight the fact that he had more than one cookie to sell.
In addition, the apostrophe is not needed when you are adding the letter “s” to a verb. Thus, the verbs in the following sentence do not need an apostrophe: “He runs, she follows, and it looks like love.”
So, you’re (apostrophe to indicate a contraction) probably wondering if I enjoyed Tom’s (apostrophe to indicate possession) deep fried cookies. No, I did not. When Tom fries (no apostrophe with the verb) his cookies (no apostrophe with the plural form), they get too soft for my liking. And since no one likes writing that is punctuated improperly, when it comes to using apostrophes, make sure you take your time to determine when they are needed and when they are not needed.