Avoiding Apostro-tastrophe: Wrapping Up the Apostrophe

This is the third and final installment in our apostrophe series. For the first installment on possessives, go here. If you’re more interested in how apostrophes affect plurals, go here. And now for the big announcement, if you make it all the way to the end of this post, you’ll get a PDF with a step-by-step walkthrough of how and when to use an apostrophe made by your very own grammar guru, ME! Be gentle, it’s my first. And it’s kinda blurry. But it’s all yours if you want a handy-dandy, printable reference guide on avoiding apostro-tastrophe.

Now on to the meat of the matter…


To understand why people have problems figuring out where to place punctuation (e.g., periods, commas, semicolons, etc.), the first thing you need to know is that the rule is different for apostrophes versus single quotation marks. If you’re ending a sentence with a single quotation mark, then punctuation most often comes BEFORE the closing quotation mark. However, if you’re ending the sentence with a word that ends in an apostrophe, which is fairly rare, to be honest, the punctuation always comes after the apostrophe.

SINGLE QUOTATION MARK: Sure, the salami in the case is ‘fresh.’
APOSTROPHE: That odor you’re detecting is the lobsters’.

Other Uses

Other uses for the apostrophe include contractions, which are the grammatical combination of two words into one wherein an apostrophe replaces one or more letters of the original two words. I’m sure you’ve seen this many times—twice, in fact, in this sentence alone.

You may also see an apostrophe when abbreviating four-digit years (e.g., the ’90s). It’s fine to use the apostrophe before the two-digit abbreviation. It is NOT okay, though, to stick an apostrophe between the number and the ‘s.’ Capiche?

Alphabetizing the Apostrophe

The rule for alphabetizing a word with an apostrophe in it is pretty much what you’d expect: act as if the apostrophe isn’t there. So if you’re alphabetizing the names Oakley and O’Malley, Oakley would come first, because O’Malley should be treated as Omalley. You might be tempted to the O’Malley first, treating the apostrophe as you might a numeral. But the accepted rule is to ignore that the apostrophe is there at all.

That’s all I have for apostrophes, folks! What did I forget? What are you still confused about? Anyone else have any amusing examples of how to use or abuse apostrophes?

And AS PROMISED, here is the PDF quick guide to using apostrophes. It’s highly low-tech and I will replace it if I ever learn how to use Visio. But the info is all there, and that’s the important thing, right? Right? Well, anyway…enjoy!

About Mary Elizabeth Summer

Mary Elizabeth Summer is an instructional designer, a mom, a champion of the serial comma, and a pie junkie. Oh, and she sometimes writes books about teenage delinquents saving the day. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her daughter, her partner, her two neurotic dogs, and her precious prince--er, cat.
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