Apostrophes are simple creatures with multiple uses. They can indicate possession:
- the criminal’s intentions …
as well as the number of subjects with possession. The example above referred to one criminal, whereas the next refers to more than one:
- the criminals’ intentions …
Indicating possession with an apostrophe can get tricky when the noun ends in an s. Some writers are happy to simply add an apostrophe and another s, as in:
- Icarus’s wings
I prefer the neater:
- Icarus’ wings
Although I would still pronounce the extra s.
Apostrophes are often used to create contractions (single and less formal words) from pairs of words, such as:
- it is = it’s
- we are = we’re
- they had = they’d
- you have = you’re
It’s, which I’ve blogged about previously, is commonly but mistakenly used to denote possession by something of non-specific gender such as a bicycle (it’s tyre is flat); the correct word is its – no apostrophe!
Apostrophes are also very frequently wrongly used to create plurals – we’ve all seen advertisements containing things like:
- used car’s for sale
- mens’ haircut’s $15
- record’s, DVD’s, everything must go
Note that mens’ is also wrong, as ‘men’ is already plural so the apostrophe comes before the s.