The basics – using apostrophes

I was reading a blog yesterday (not anyone who follows this one) and noticed a pretty blatant apostrophe error.  In this case it was an omission.  The blogger wrote something about staying at a hotel and the hotel’s pool, but wrote it as “hotels pool” instead.

I’ll admit, I occasionally screw up an apostrophe.  Like when I write about a writers’ retreat and say writer’s retreat instead.  At the time I’m thinking it’s singular, but in fact it’s probably plural.  (After I do something like that, I’ll wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night with the sudden realization – “Damn!  I screwed up that apostrophe!”  A little late at that point…)

Anyway.  Since I know I’m not always 100% on this one, I went and tracked down a few web links.

First, I just want to make a general recommendation for the on-line version of the Chicago Manual of Style.  It’s an amazing resource and, if you buy it on-line, you can access it from anywhere, use the search function, and not risk some sort of damage to your wrists getting the book down off your shelves.  It cost me $60 for a two-year subscription and is definitely worth it.

Second, here’s a visual run-through from The Oatmeal on How to Use the Apostrophe.

Third, a little more formal guidance from the Purdue OWL: The Apostrophe

And fourth, an eHow article that seems pretty legit: Proper Use of Apostrophes

The blogosphere seems to be pretty forgiving of things like this, but the professional world (and I fully suspect the publishing world) will judge you harshly if you can’t master basic apostrophe usage.  Maybe 25% of folks won’t know an its from an it’s (sad, but true).  But they’ll know an “I’m” from an “Im” and a “dog’s house” from a “dogs house.”

So, master the basics.  To me that’s contractions (e.g., “they’ll”) and basic possessives (e.g., “the dog’s house”).  Next step, get your it’s and its under control.

If you get to the point where you’re wondering whether to write 1700s vs. 1700’s or you’re having a debate about whether to use the Jones’ vs. the Jones’s, you’re probably in the safe range.

(As a bonus lesson – there is a difference between i.e. and e.g.  (I didn’t learn this until about five years into my professional career.  I know…sad.)  I think of i.e. as meaning “in other words” and e.g. meaning “for example.”  So, when I use i.e., I have to give the full context whereas when I use e.g. I can just give one of many possibilities.

Here’s a link to a decent article on it: e.g. vs i.e. from Online language learning with Laura K. Lawless)


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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