November 13, 2012

This week’s post is one that drills us down to the basic mechanics of press release writing and one that can undo the best work of writers – the use, or misuse, of the humble apostrophe.

There are some specific rules for the use of the apostrophe but these are often misunderstood or misapplied.

Here are 10 handy rules for its use. These will keep your releases correct and current.

1. An apostrophe is used to show the possessive case of proper nouns.

• Allison Jones’ article (one person named Jones)

• The Joneses’ article (two or more people named Jones)

2. If a singular or plural word does not end in s, add ’s to form the possessive.

• a child’s wants

• the men’s concerns

• the people’s choice

• everyone’s answer

3. If a proper noun or name ends in a silent s, z, or x, add an ’s

• Theroux’s “The Mosquito Coast”

4. Do not use ’s with possessive pronouns: his, hers, ours, its, yours, theirs, whose.

• The article was hers.

• I have not seen its equal.

5. Use ’s only after the last word of a compound term.

• my father-in-law’s book

• an editor in chief’s decision

• someone else’s problem

6. When showing joint possession with an organization’s or business firm’s name, use the possessive only in the last word.

• the Food and Drug Administration’s policy

• Hammond and Horn’s study

7. Do not use an apostrophe to indicate the plural of a name, an all-capital abbreviation, or of numerals.

• Veterans Affairs

• musicians union

• ECGs

• WBCs

• a woman in her 40s

• during the late 1990s (1990’s—no, no, no, a thousand times no.)

8. Use ’s to indicate the plural of letters, signs, or symbols when s alone would be confusing.

• Please spell out all the &’s.

• She got eight A’s and two B’s on her last report card.

9. When units of time or money are used as possessive adjectives, add ’s.

• a day’s wait

• a dollar’s worth

• six months’ gestation

• two weeks’ notice (The movie title was not punctuated correctly.)

10. When a word ends in an apostrophe, no period or comma should be placed between the word and the apostrophe.

• The last book on the shelf was the Smiths’.

Like any selection of rules, the more you use and apply them, the easier it is until they become second nature.

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