Nothing screams “spinach in the teeth” to me more than seeing an apostrophe where it’s not needed. Many people struggle with apostrophes. But if you ask yourself these questions, you’ll get this common punctuation challenge right every time.
Your “Spinach in Your Teeth” Moment?
Think about a time when someone has been talking to you. What they’re saying might be incredibly important, but if that speaker has spinach in their teeth, which are you paying attention to more, the spinach or their message?
Misspelled words, capitalizations, and poor punctuation – like misusing an apostrophe – is like a speaker having spinach in his or her teeth: the typo (or green stuff) can drag your audience’s attention away from your message.
So ask yourself:
Question 1: Does the apostrophe indicate contraction?
If your word is a contraction (or combining two words into one), then you need an apostrophe.
Example: It’s is a contracted version of “it is.”
How do I know? Substitute the potentially contracted word pairing into your sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, then you are using the contraction correctly.
For example: It’s 5pm. (Substituted version: It is 5pm.) In this case “it’s” is correct.
“Why can’t we finish this report tomorrow?” (Why can we not finish this report tomorrow? – Can’t is correct.)
Question 2: Does the apostrophes indicate possession?
If your word is demonstrating possession, then you need an apostrophe.
Example: Tom’s office is always cold.
How do I know: It’s simple… If you are indicating possession. Who's office? Tom's office. Use an apostrophe.
But What About….?
There are a few situations that tend to confuse people even more when it comes to possessives: Words ending in S, and Plural Possessives.
Words Ending in S
Using the example from above, what if the name was Chris, rather than Tom. Is it Chris’ office? Or Chris’s office? While I have seen some people argue that adding another s is acceptable, I wouldn’t recommend it.
In this case: Chris’ office is always cold.
There are also times when the plural noun is in possession of something.
So for example: All of the supervisors’ orders for the whole company had to be re-examined in light of the lawsuit. (Meaning all supervisors, or multiple supervisors – not just one supervisor.)
So Just Remember: Are you indicating contraction or possession? If you are – use an apostrophe. If not – leave it out.
Misused apostrophes are so easy to avoid. Just ask yourself: Am I indicating possession or contraction? If so – you’re good to go (with the apostrophe.) If not, take it out.