It’s autumn term.
Let’s get back to school with… apostrophes!
The tip for proofreading apostrophes is to use your Find function and examine every single one. And then search for every there, their and its – you may find you need a they’re or an it’s. As avid readers you all know how to use apostrophes. It’s the typing too fast that allows errors to creep in.
So… back to basics, here’s a reminder of the uses of apostrophes:
To indicate ‘possession’:
The Magician’s Nephew, Carrie’s War, Charlotte’s Web, Saffy’s Angel,
and there’s –
the magician’s nephew’s guinea-pigs (the guinea pigs belonging to one nephew of one magician),
the magicians’ nephew’s guinea-pigs (the guinea pigs belonging to one nephew of more than one magician),
the magician’s nephews’ guinea-pigs (the guinea pigs belonging to more than one nephew of one magician)
and the magicians’ nephews’ guinea-pigs (the guinea pigs belonging to more than one nephew of more than one magician).
There are two possibilities if words end in ‘s’ –
Iris’s book, Ross’s friends, the boss’s car, the business’s directors.
This is what we say aloud so it’s now usual to write it this way too, though there’s a tradition of ancient names taking the following slightly awkward convention – Hercules’ manuscript, Archimedes’ contract, Ulysses’ book. Sometimes you see this used with newer names. As ever, with a choice, just be consistent.
To indicate time or quantity:
One week’s notice
Two years’ experience
Three months’ work
|Catriona's two cents' worth|
To indicate missing letters:
I’m sure it’ll be obvious what’s going on ’ere.
And the rest – didn’t, hadn’t, she’d, I’ll, Jo’burg, etc.
If you’re using apostrophes to indicate dialect (’orrible noises, banks o’ the river) remember to check if your font has dumb (straight) or smart (curly) quotes. If it has smart quotes you may have to manipulate an apostrophe or ‘close quote’ into position, rather than an ‘open quote’ (your Autocorrect function can sometimes get in the way of this).
This also needs checking if you’ve shortened a year (summer of ’68) or if you’ve used an old-fashioned affectation like ’phone or ’fridge.
As mentioned before, the contraction to check is… it’s. This can always be expanded into ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. If it’s a possessive it’s always… its.
It’s important to proofread your work in progress including its title page.
I’d also recommend searching your document for we’re / were as well as they’re / their / there.
And when you don’t need apostrophes:
Plurals don’t need apostrophes – The Borrowers, Green Eggs and Ham, The Wind in the Willows, Where the Wild Things Are,
even at the greengrocer’s –
apples, avocados, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes,
and there are no apostrophes in abbreviations or decades these days –
CDs, DVDs, MPs, 1950s, 1990s.
Adjectival plurals (using one noun to modify another) don’t need apostrophes: accounts department, benefits cuts, customs officer, sports car… and I’m off to the drinks cabinet.