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Written by Jincy Kornhauser at Pearson Tutor Services

Proper punctuation, such as the proper use (and non-use) of apostrophes, is a worry to all writers. It's tempting to just stop worrying about it and assume that the meaning of your sentences, written however you want to write them, will be obvious in context. But lots of times this doesn't happen. The fact is, we punctuate sentences not for ourselves, but for our readers. A properly used apostrophe instantly gives the reader precise information, without which she could become confused and lose time trying to figure out what you mean. You don't ever want to annoy or confuse your reader. A writer is nothing without a reader.

We use apostrophes for two basic reasons:

  1. to indicate possession, as in my friend's house (the house of/belonging to my friend, singular) and my parents' house (the house of/belonging to my parents, plural), and
  2. in a contraction, to indicate a missing letter or letters, as in my friend's home (my friend is home).

We do not use apostrophes in the formation of simple plural nouns, as in my friends are all here, or in the formation of the third person singular verb, as in he makes friends easily.

When a noun ends in “o” (like tomato, Latino, zero), you may be tempted to use an apostrophe because just adding “s” “looks wrong”. And with some of these words it is wrong—you have to add “es” (heroes, tomatoes, zeroes). But you don’t always add “e”—the plural of “Latino” is “Latinos”. Luckily, you don’t have to memorize lists. If you have any doubt about how to pluralize an odd noun, especially one ending in “o”, just look it up in your dictionary.

So: Take apostrophe rules seriously. Using them correctly will help your readers understand your sentences and show them you are an accomplished writer.

Image source: The Communications Factor Blog


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