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Apostrophes: Stop the Abuse and Misuse!

Apostrophes are one of the simpler punctuation marks, which may explain why they are forever and always botched at the supermarket and in other marketing copy. The mistakes are easy to make and difficult to spot.

Marketing - Grammar - Apostrophes

Apostrophes have two uses, the first of which is possession. The apostrophe shows to whom or what a person or object belongs. Hilarity ensues when the punctuation mark makes an appearance even though it’s not necessary:

Incorrect: 12 egg’s for sale

Correct: 12 eggs for sale

Conclusion: Does the “for sale” belong to the eggs or are the eggs for sale? The world may never know.

Incorrect: landlord’s wanted

Correct: landlords wanted

Conclusion: For what is the landlord wanted? Is a bounty involved?

Both cases above are errors of the plural sort; that is, the copywriter needed to pluralize “egg” and “landlord” but did so with an apostrophe-plus-s. All the copywriter needed to do was an add an “s.” Since he or she didn’t, the viewing public now gets to have a bit of fun.

As for the rules regarding possessive case, the common ones are as follows:

  1. Add –‘s to singular nouns and indefinite pronouns.
    The magician’s balloon animals amazed the children.
    Mr. Magoo’s glasses were found on the bus.
    Note: The –‘s can be added to singular nouns that end in “s,” but usage varies widely. The –‘s is never wrong, though.
  2.  Add –‘s to plural nouns not ending in “s.”
    The children’s play was a hit.
    The paparazzi’s furor could be heard from blocks away.
  3. Add only an apostrophe to plural nouns ending in “s.”
    The workers’ lunch hour was cut short by an impromptu meeting.
    Because the Kims’ car was in the shop all week, Mr. Kim had to get a rental from Enterprise.

An assist from a vandal.

A few other rules regarding compound words like “brother-in-law” or word groups such as “Tim and Mike” exist. Their use occurs infrequently enough that marketers can get away with not knowing the rules by heart.

The second use has to do with contractions of words like “it is” and “they are.” The apostrophe both joins the words together and indicates that a letter or letters has been omitted.

“It is” turns to “it’s”; “they are” becomes “they’re”; and so on and so forth. It’s simple enough, but contractions have a way of being mistaken for their possessive counterparts:

Incorrect: Save you’re money by buying now!

Correct: Save your money by buying now!

Incorrect: KVGN: Original reporting at it’s best.

Correct: KVGN: Original reporting at its best.

Both examples use the apostrophe-plus-s to show ownership, which, in nine out of 10 cases, would be correct. Possessive personal pronouns, though, play by different rules.

Because mistakes with the apostrophe can be difficult to spot, the only advice for marketers is careful proofing. The marketer or copywriter should review his or her own work, then let the work be proofed by another. The method isn’t foolproof, but it will catch most mistakes.

Want more grammar and marketing advice from Erin? Click here!

Image: soukup, skuds, arripay (Creative Commons)

About Erin Feldman

Erin Feldman is the director of editorial services at Tenacity5 Media. When she isn’t researching, writing, and editing blog posts and white papers, she writes poetry and essays, draws her favorite Write Right character, and plans what art form to study next. She’s based in Austin, Texas and can be found on Twitter @erinmfeldman.

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