Matthew Bryant is secretary of GFW Writers group and also is our in-house professor of the new Grammar Etiquette blog series, posted the second Wednesday of every month. He is an English teacher in Denton, TX. When he isn't teaching he is ghost writing and working on his novel. He says with small children he has learned to write fast.
If you have a question or a comment, please leave it in the comment section at the end of this article.
One of the easiest mistakes to make, then later to overlook, is the misuse of apostrophes. While a bit obnoxious, this is perfectly understandable, so there's no real sense in beating yourself up over it. As an English teacher, it's the third most common error, just tailing behind commas and homonyms. So let's have a quick refresher in the appropriate times to use one, shall we?
In each of these, the apostrophe appears where the words are split and then rejoined. Think of them as the duct tape of the literary world. The reason I used this demonstration first, is for a few select words: it's and there's. While these could easily fall into the category of possessives, it would be incorrect. It's and there's represent “it is” and “there is” respectively. Such as “It's a nice day out today” and “There's poo in the litter box.” And for the record, those self-cleaning litter boxes don't really do you any favors, it just collects all of the foulness into an inconvenient plastic box that leaks half the litter out onto the floor beneath the box anyway.
The best way to keep a litter box clean is to throw out the cat.
I like having things. Anything I can dub as 'mine' is an automatic win in my humble opinion. Even if the statement is, “Matthew's car is a piece of crap.” This may be true, but it's MY car and I'm damned proud of it. In these situations, the apostrophe follows the noun that holds ownership and is typically succeeded by an 's'. Rare instances are those shown above involving 'its' and 'theres'. While spell-check will tell you that 'theres' doesn't exist, it's just being stupid. Disregard.
Other instances of difference are following plural nouns - “It's the ducks' favorite watering hole.” In these cases, the apostrophe actually signifies the end of the word.
More obnoxious are the nouns that end in 's'. For instance: Princess. In order to make princess plural, you must attach an apostrophe and another 's'. Spoken aloud, this sounds like 'Princesses', although there is no additional 'e' added.
I might've just made that word up. Regardless of my God-like abilities to create language, this happens to fit these phenomena perfectly. Pseudo-quotes are words, letters, or phrases embedded into a sentence, statement, or thought without actually being a direct quote. I love these because they don't require a comma, although some may call for 'finger quotes' when spoken publicly.
Armed with this knowledge, you can safely avoid the apostrophe atrocity that has befallen far too many self-published authors who excitedly hand me their manuscript and 'graciously' receive their backhand of peer-editing.