Why did everyone stay away from the Giant Kid’s Playground? Because they were afraid of the giant kid, of course.
This is one of the many apostrophe jokes in Lyn Truss’s classic punctuation text, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which is so endearing that it became a bestseller when it was first published in 2003.
Her latest edition of the book includes stick-on apostrophes. It allows punctuation sticklers, angered to the point of militancy by incorrect use of apostrophes on public signage, to quickly pull a sticker out of her book and correct the offending sign.
Truss has plenty of supporters in the war against the incorrect use of apostrophes. When she did a survey in her London newspaper column she received hundreds of letters and emails with punctuation horror stories. ‘It was in 1987, I’ll never forget, and it said “Cream Tea’s”’ gives you an idea of the despair she tapped into.
The fact is, apostrophes are tricky. If you happen to know how to use them, you have every reason to feel superior to lesser-endowed humans. You are practically superhuman if you get your apostrophes right every time. If you follow these instructions for apostrophes, you can always feel superior.
When to use an apostrophe.
Use an apostrophe when you are showing ownership—but only with nouns. It can get a bit complicated to work out where to put the apostrophe and the ‘s’, so keep the following tips in mind:
- If it’s a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an ‘s’.
e.g. cat’s paw, woman’s work, business’s charter.
- Also, add an apostrophe and an ’s’ to plural nouns that don’t end in ‘s’ themselves.
e.g. children’s toys, women’s rights.
- When you have plural nouns that do end in ‘s’ (which is most of them) just add an apostrophe.
e.g. dentists’ surgeries, horses’ stables, supervisors’ meetings.
- The possessive of names ending in ‘s’ is controversial and you may have learned a rule at school that is now outdated. In Australia, we simply add an ‘s to any name when used to show possession
e.g. Charles’s house, The Times’s headline, Mars’s orbit.
- The apostrophe is no longer used in the plural of abbreviated forms
e.g. Several MPs were standing around
although it is, of course, used in the possessive
e.g. The BBC’s decision to go ahead with the broadcast …
- Similarly, when you write dates like ‘the 1960s’, you do not use an apostrophe before the ‘s’.
In Australia, place names do not take apostrophes. You go to Kings Cross in Sydney and to Suttons Beach in Redcliffe. St Josephs College would be correct, although many schools of that name add the apostrophe just to be sure.
That’s enough for one day. You are already better than the average person. Hold your head up proudly and go to the shop that advertises Job’s Available (or Trouser’s Reduced).