Sunday, August 14, 2011

Quick thoughts on apostrophes

Many writers have problems with apostrophes, and even I have to sometimes think a bit before I use them. People might say that a nonagenarian is in his 90's (not necessary; 90s will do), the temperature is in the 90's (90s is fine) or I bought that car in the 1990's (1990s will do).

They'll even write '90's to shorten 1990's. That will work fine as '90s or 1990s.

You don't need to write their's. Theirs is already possessive. On the other hand, people write ten's of thousands. It's not possessive, so you don't need the apostrophe. It's simply tens of thousands.

In most cases, the rule of thumb is to ask yourself if the word is possessive (Tiger Woods' golf clubs, the Green Bay Packers' quarterback). If it's not possessive, you probably don't need an apostrophe (unless it's a contraction like it's for it is).

One more thing: If you said that James owns a green car, you might say that James's car is green. Or James' car is green. Me? I prefer James's car.

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  1. A member of a writers' forum to which I belong posted an interesting cautionary tale:

    She had written a report which was to be printed in her department's annual review. It contained various instances of its and it's - all correct. Before sending it for printing her supervisor, thinking he was improving it, inserted all the supposedly missing apostrophes. "It doesn't matter which you use," he said, "but it is important to be consistent."

  2. One that always grated on me was the use of hyphens.

    It should be "Jones was four-for-six passing," not, "Jones completed four-of-six passes."


    I've had editors put in hyphens where I wouldn't have.

    Don't get me started on "moreso."

  3. Sorry for not replying sooner. I agree on "Jones completed four of six passes."

    I've never used moreso. In fact, spell check doesn't like it.