I have a friend I absolutely love. He’s Dutch but has been living in the United States for at least forty years. English is about his fifth language. He hates our apostrophe.
When he’s reading English, apostrophes are a distraction to him, especially when a word ends in s.
“You have so many rules!” he says. Well, we really don’t.
- Denote possession
- Make s-ending words plural
- Show something’s missing
If a person, place or thing–I’m talking about a regular noun, here–owns something, then the apostrophe s is appropriate:
- Zippy’s collar is blue.
- Orlando’s traffic is nightmarish.
- That shovel’s handle is red.
If a word is already plural or ends in s, the extra s is not necessary:
- Friday is usually guys’ night out.
- Some editors, teachers, professors prefer s’s. Always check the style guide before submitting your assignment.
Missing word parts
When we speak, we naturally squish words together. The letters we aren’t pronouncing are replaced with an apostrophe:
- Short for cannot.
- The ’60s and ’70s had the best and most complex rock.
- The missing “19” is represented by the apostrophe.
Okay, I admit, there are other tricky apostrophes, such as when making compound nouns plural:
- My father-in-law’s golf clubs are always in the trunk.
- All attorneys-general work for the Attorney-General of Florida.
And when initials are plural:
- “I have a ton of CD’s” is as correct as “I have a ton of CDs.” It depends upon the editor’s style.
But overall, those three basic areas are what’s covered by apostrophes.
Read more about apostrophes in The Blue Book of Grammar.