Using Apostrophes

Using ApostrophesOne of the most popular questions from our writing and grammar courses is “Can you have an apostrophe after an s?” And of course, as you all know, you can! The apostrophe is a little piece of punctuation that causes some of the biggest headaches and the most discussions (or arguments) in offices. So follow the 10 tips below and always get it right.

  1. The first use of the apostrophe’s two main uses is for the omission of letters. So, “cannot” becomes “can’t”, “will not” becomes “won’t”, and so on. This doesn’t usually cause problems and it is quite acceptable in business writing to use these abbreviations. However, if you want to be very formal, then don’t use them.
  2. The second use is to show possession. Sometimes, people refer to this as “showing that something or someone belongs to something or someone”. In the phrase “the clients will”, to show that the will belongs to the client, you would write “the client’s will”. If there were several clients, each with a will, then you would write “the clients’ wills”.
  3. For the words “men”, “women” and “children”, you would only ever use the apostrophe before the s. So, “the men’s toilets”, “the women’s cloakroom” and “the children’s inheritance”. This is because men, women and children are already in the plural form.
  4. For names that end in s, you have a choice. So you could have “James’ book” or “James’s book”. Both are correct, though the second one is favoured.
  5. For words that end in “ss”, like “boss” or “business”, there’s another choice for you to make! Add just an apostrophe, or add an apostrophe plus an s, as in “the boss’/boss’s secretary” and “the business’/business’s bank account”. In these examples there is only one boss or one business. If there were several bosses and businesses, it could only be “the bosses’ secretaries” and the “businesses’ bank accounts”.
  6. Remember to use the apostrophe in time words. For example, “in a week’s time”, “one day’s notice”, “four weeks’ holiday”, “six years’ accounts”.
  7. Beware of plural words like “ladies” and “companies”. These would become “the ladies’ coats”, “all of the companies’ tax returns”, etc.
  8. Beware of double apostrophes. In the phrase “the partners wives cars”, you need to show (grammatically) that the wives belong to the partners and that the cars belong to the wives. So you should write “the partners’ wives’ cars”. A wrongly placed apostrophe (as in “partner’s”) would mean that there is one partner with several wives!
  9. In the sentence “The temp’s typing was better than the usual secretary’s”, you do need the second apostrophe. Although there is nothing after “secretary” to say exactly what the secretary possesses, “typing” is implied and so the apostrophe is needed.
  10. “It’s” means “it is” or “it has”. Do not use an apostrophe in the following example: “Please review its content and let me know what you think”. If you can’t substitute “it is” or “it has” for the “it’s,” then it shouldn’t have an apostrophe.