Does the picture above make you wince? Can you easily spot the three errors in it?
While there are differences in all the versions of “English” around the world, most English speakers and writers can spot at least one of the errors above and maybe all three. Two of those errors concern an apostrophe, although the third does not.
There are only two reasons to use an apostrophe, one of which — creating contractions of words and dates — is today’s focus. The other reason is to show possession, and you can find more information on that topic on my website: GrammarGoddess.com.
ALWAYS use an apostrophe when you form a contraction (leave out one or more letters or numbers) of words or dates.
The apostrophe “marks the spot” where the missing information was.
YES: We don’t (do not) understand that.
YES: It isn’t (is not) fair!
YES: Juan can’t (cannot) take a day off this week.
YES: My mom won’t (will not) be at the party.
YES: That wasn’t (was not) the correct answer.
YES: I’m (I am) going to dinner shortly.
YES: He’s (He is) joining the club.
YES: We’re (We are) watching that TV show right now.
YES: You’re (You are) so right about that!
In each sentence above, one or more letters have been left out of the word(s), requring us to show that with an apostrophe. In some cases, if you leave the apostrophe out, spellcheck will flag the resulting word because it’s not correctly spelled (such as “youre,” but in some cases leaving out the apostrophe means you’ve written a perfectly spelled word and spellcheck won’t flag it (were), even though it’s not what you meant.
We also MUST use an apostrophe when we create contractions of dates. And the apostrophe always goes where the missing numbers were.
YES: the 1990s = the ’90s
YES: Music of the 1960s = music of the ’60s
YES: Amy graduated in the class of 1989 (the class of ’89).
YES: Frank was born in 1954 (in ’54), so he’s officially a Baby Boomer.
Why does the apostrophe always go in front in the date contraction? Because that’s where the missing numbers were.
But remember: We do not use an apostrophe to create plurals of anything, unless the reader would be confused without it (see below for examples of that).
To create regular plurals in English, even of foreign words, we either add “s” or “es,” but we don’t add an apostrophe.
NO: We don’t have any fee’s (YES: fees).
NO: John has four dog’s and three cat’s (YES: dogs and cats).
NO: We had taco’s and pizza’s (YES: tacos and pizzas) for dinner!
NO: All my Thursday’s (YES: Thursdays) are booked.
NO: All the mom’s and dad’s (YES: moms and dads) are cheering for their kids.
NO: How many ATM’s (YES: ATMs) are in the building?
NO: The high temp’s (YES: temps) will be in the 90’s (YES: 90s) today!
We do often make single letters plural with an apostrophe, because otherwise they’d be hard to read and/or understand.
YES: “Mind your p’s and q’s.”
YES: There are three I’s in that sentence that should be changed.
YES: Sarah earned all A’s on her exams!
Does this help? Apostrophe abuse is everywhere, and all I can do is explain it again and again in different ways, hoping that my readers will learn and then help others.
(FYI: The picture at the top came from a good friend, Susan Goodsell, and I thank her for it!)