Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH — Avoid these apostrophe mistakes for clearer writing

TODD SMITH — Avoid these apostrophe mistakes for clearer writing



Apostrophes are as much a part of our daily life as brushing our teeth and that first cup of coffee in the morning. But with the myriad uses of the peculiar punctuation, it’s a good idea to review the right and wrong way to use them.

Here’s a brief rundown of the most common occurrences of apostrophe abuse, according to PR Daily:

1. Plurals

Writing the plural form of a noun in which an apostrophe precedes the plural s, such as when taxi’s is written instead if taxis, is a common error. (This mistake is known as a greengrocer’s apostrophe due to its ubiquity in handwritten—and even printed—store signs.)

2. Pronouns

Pronouns are followed by an apostrophe and s only as contractions (for example, he’s). Possessive pronouns (such as theirs and yours) never include an apostrophe. The possessive pronoun its does not take a pronoun; the contraction it’s (meaning it is) does.

3. Separate/shared possession

When two or more people or other entities are described as separately owning something, each name should be in possessive form: “John’s and Jane’s houses are the same color.” However, when they share possession, include an apostrophe and an s after the latter name only: “John and Jane’s house is just down the block.”

4. Possessive form of a surname

That shingle on your neighbor’s porch should not read, “The Brown’s house,” unless your neighbor’s legal name is “The Brown.” A sign identifying the residence of the Browns should read “The Browns’ house” (or simply “The Browns”).

5. Plural form of an abbreviation

No apostrophe is required with plurals of abbreviations. Write, for example, “They disarmed or detonated several IEDs” (not IED’s).

6. Plural form of a numeral

In the rare case of indicating more than one instance of a numeral, do not use an apostrophe: “Write three 7s on a piece of paper” (not 7’s).

7. Span of years

Some publications persist in using an apostrophe in a reference to a span of years, but that form is outdated: Write, for example, “The style, which flourished briefly in the 1960s, made a comeback several decades later” (not 1960’s) and “He continued to work well into his 70s” (not 70’s).

Generally, an apostrophe should follow a number only if it is possessive (“It was 1985’s longest-reigning Top 40 hit”), though this style is awkward. (An exception is use of a number to stand in for a person, such as when an athlete is identified by a uniform number, as in “It was No. 13’s lucky day.”)

8. Plural form of a word used as a word

Don’t apostrophize the conjunctions in “There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” or the counterpoints in “A helpful list of dos and don’ts follows.” (Do, however, retain the intrinsic apostrophe in the plural form of don’t.)

9. Plural form of a letter used as a letter

Even when a letter is italicized, it still looks awkward to simply place an s next to it to indicate plurality, so do insert an apostrophe: “How many m’s do you spell hmm with?” (Follow this rule even when, in the case of an expression such as “Mind your p’s and q’s,” italicization isn’t necessary.) Also, Associated Press style recommends that writers include an apostrophe when pluralizing capital letters: “She received only A’s and B’s on her last report card.”

10. Brand names

Many brand names, such as Starbucks Coffee, that technically should include apostrophes don’t, for one of two reasons (or both): A company decides that the brand name and/or logo look better without an apostrophe, or it reasons that it’s better to omit the punctuation mark so that people typing the URL for the company’s website into a Web browser or searching for it (or for other references to the company) online won’t have difficulty doing so. Yes, “Starbucks Coffee” is a “mistake,” but one the company has the right to make (and writers and editors have an obligation to honor).

LinkedIn allows marketers to target ads

LinkedIn is now letting businesses target ads based on companies they’re actually trying to sell to.

Last week, the company announced that marketers running native ads through Sponsored Updates or Sponsored InMail campaigns can target user profiles based on a list of companies they want to reach with specific products or other sales.

The feature, which is appropriately named LinkedIn Account Targeting, allows marketers to provide a list of as many as 30,000 companies they want to target in a campaign. LinkedIn then checks to see which of those are among the 8 million companies on the platform before targeting their pages, as well as the profiles of people at those companies that match certain criteria such as job duties and seniority.

The new feature has been tested in a global pilot program by companies including Comcast, Salesforce and Swrve. Edwards said the 20 companies that have tested it have seen promising results, with reductions in cost per lead and increased performance metrics such as email opens and clickthrough rates.

According to LinkedIn, customers using the feature in beta invested as much as five to 10 times more to continue the targeting campaign after seeing promising initial results. (For example, if a client started with a beta budget of $10,000, some spent an additional $50,000.)

Golden Mic | Pat Conroy gave beautiful voice to prose 

The world lost a commanding writer who gave a beautiful voice to the ugly side of human nature, making a powerful stand for the abused, the tortured and the afflicted throughout his life.

Pat Conroy, 70, whose tortured family life and the scenic marshlands of coastal South Carolina served as unending sources of inspiration for his fiction, notably the novels “The Great Santini,” “The Lords of Discipline” and “The Prince of Tides,” died last week.

Mr. Conroy channeled the people, the places and the trauma of his childhood and young manhood for his powerful prose, fiction and novels. Nowhere was this more evident than in a series of memoirs that captivated readers with their openly emotional tone and lurid family stories that often reached its most poignant impact when evoking the wetlands around Beaufort, S.C.

The miseries of his childhood and youth, and his troubled relationship with his father, supplied the material for “The Great Santini,”

“The Lords of Discipline,” which drew heavily on Conroy’s years as a student at the Citadel, Charleston’s infamous military academy, followed the same pattern – modest success amplified by translation to the screen in 1983.

With “The Prince of Tides,” Mr. Conroy hit the jackpot. His sprawling story of Tom Wingo, an unemployed high school teacher who confronts his past when he travels to New York to help his suicidal sister, sold more than 350,000 copies in hardcover and spent nearly a year on the best-seller lists. After Barbra Streisand directed and played a starring role in the film version, with Nick Nolte as the novel’s hero, Mr. Conroy moved to the front ranks of popular American writers.

The world has lost a prince of a writer, and he’s typing among the angels now. For the huge literary impact he made on generations of readers, Conroy takes the Golden Mic!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


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