Copywriting Nightmares – The Apostrophe.

What would you do if Spell Check magically disappeared??

I’m a big fan of giving documents a once-over with Spell Check, a tool I used frequently when writing, editing, and re-editing a 10,000 word dissertation. When you spend a long time writing a lengthy document you will often find that small errors are overlooked, and when creating a piece of copy to be released for public consumption nothing looks worse than a spelling mistake or grammatical error, especially those really obvious and annoying ones. It will reflect badly on your Marketing Department, and depending on who your target audience are, it can reflect badly on your entire organisation.

It appears a pet-hate in the office is the use of the apostrophe. The rules for using the apostrophe are actually pretty definite but it is often used in a variety of situations inappropriately. Here are some rules for its use:

1. An apostrophe is used to indicate the possessive.
  • This is Peter’s book.
  • The people’s choice.

When the proper noun already ends in an “s”:

  •  It is Elaine Jones’ article.
2. Do not use “’s” with possessive pronouns: his, hers, ours, its, yours, theirs.
  • The house is yours.
  • The dog broke its leg.
3. Use an apostrophe to indicate missing letters in words or phrases.
  • I’d like an ice cream.
  • You can’t have that.
4. Do not use an apostrophe to indicate the plural of a name, an all-capital abbreviation, or of numerals.
  • Musicians Union
  • CDs
  • During the late 1990s (not 1990’s).

However, “this CD’s broken” – here we use the apostrophe because this sentence actually means “this CD is broken”.

5. Use “’s” to indicate the structure of unusual words when “s” alone would be confusing.
  • Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
  • A list of do’s and don’ts.
6. When units of time or money are used as possessive adjectives, add “’s”.
  • A day’s wait.
  • Six months’ wait.
  • Two weeks’ notice (The movie title was wrong, bad Hollywood).

The moral of the story is to use your Spell Check, it’s quick, painless and free!

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