The Damned Apostrophe and How To Use It



Sometimes I just think ‘get rid of it’. It’s a pain. Even those of us who work with words occasionally sit scratching our heads at where the damn thing should go.

But, despite our agony, most of the time the apostrophe is a much maligned punctuation mark. It does its job wonderfully well – if you can get your head around it.

So, in the spirit of friendship for everyone who hates the little thing, here’s the lowdown to help you polish your prose.


Contractions (shortened phrases)

One of the most common ways to use the apostrophe is in shortened phrases – where letters have been omitted in a group of words. The apostrophe basically takes the place of the missing letters.

So, if there’s a letter missing that’s where you stick the apostrophe:

’d instead of would or had – he’d, she’d we’d

’ve instead of have  – they’ve, we’ve

’t instead of not – can’t, aren’t

’ll instead of will or shall – we’ll, he’ll, she’ll

’s instead of is – that’s, what’s, it’s, who’s

’re instead of are – we’re

won’t – this stands for will not (I know, it’s weird)


It can also be used for shortening years. But beware!

When you write out a year like this, simply hitting the apostrophe/single quote key on your keyboard just won’t cut it. The computer brain thinks you’re starting a quote, so you get an opening quote mark instead of an apostrophe. The quickest way to remedy this is to hit the quote key twice and delete the first one – that way you have a nice, correct punctuation mark facing the right way.

Summer of ’69

We went to Madrid in ’86



Exceptions – clipped words

Again, beware! Not all contractions need an apostrophe. If a contraction is formed from a word that has been clipped and has made it into everyday use (basically, because us humans are lazy), you don’t use an apostrophe.

This isn’t where one or two letters have been cut out, but where a whole part of the word has been consigned to the bin.

Words like:

bus instead of omnibus

phone instead of telephone

gym instead of gymnasium

fridge instead of refrigerator


Way back in time we used an apostrophe for these, but that was when the ’bus was new and exciting, and the writer was being oh, so hip by nonchalantly cutting out part of the word. These days it will only make you look like an old fuddy-duddy.

confused over apostrophes


This is a nightmare. The thing that trips people up. The monster that refuses to die.

’s shows that something belongs to someone or something:

Helen’s present

Heidi’s fashion sense

a week’s work

somebody’s chocolate


But beware! There is no apostrophe in the possessives its, yours, hers, ours, or theirs.


What if the word already ends in an s? Well, there are two ways to go:

More common these days is – if you say it, you spell it:

Tom Jones’s dog

Thomas’s portfolio


But the other, more old-fashioned, way is to just have the apostrophe and leave out the s. This is also preferable if the word ends in an ‘ez’ sound. (This can be down to personal preference, and honestly it’s perfectly fine to drop that second s it if it’s easier.)

Tom Jones’ dog

Thomas’ portfolio

Moses’ sense of humour


And for plural nouns and names ending in s, if you don’t pronounce it, don’t use it.

My sisters’ champagne

three weeks’ time

Socrates’ followers


Getting confused yet?

Possessives still confuse a lot of people. It can be something you have to think carefully about, but it’s usually fairly simple. Think about if the noun is singular or plural and that will tell you where to put the punctuation mark:


the artist’s work = the work belonging to the artist (singular)

the artists’ work = the work belonging to the artists (plural)

my brother’s champagne = the champagne belonging to my brother (singular)

my brothers’ champagne = the champagne belonging to my brothers (plural)

sad man


Its or it’s / whose or who’s

This causes so much confusion!

When you are using the apostrophe to show a letter is missing you use it’s

it’s = it has or it is

it’s wrong

it’s confusing

it’s not funny

who’s laughing?


but that’s the only time the apostrophe is used.

For possessives, if something belongs to someone or something, there is no apostrophe as no letters are missing, so it would be:

its huge tentacles

its sharp teeth

whose eyes are those?



This one is the worst. The one that drives you mad when you spot it on a sign. The one that spawned the so-called grocer’s apostrophe.

People – we don’t use an apostrophe for plurals unless the word would be unreadable without it.

So we say:

mind your p’s and q’s

dot the i’s and cross the t’s


but for everyday plurals, leave those damn apostrophes out:

a kilo of toffees – not a kilo of toffee’s

the best whiskies in the area – not the best whisky’s in the area

free range eggs – not free range egg’s


So there you go, a short guide to the apostrophe. There’s no other punctuation mark that seems to annoy and confuse so many people. Hopefully now you can go forth and use the mark with wild abandon – but please, be kind to those who still get it wrong. Just quietly point them towards a friendly guide such as this and don’t call them out in public, no one likes a smart-arse.

Stop The Race To The Bottom, Value Your Writing Services

Business people Running Towards Finish Line --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

I need an editor … you’ll be rewarded

I need an editor … you’ll get great exposure

I need an editor … fast

I need an editor … I don’t mind paying

I need an editor … willing to pay

I need an editor … for free


If you need an editor … I’ll do it cheap

If you need an editor … I need the money

If you need an editor … I need a job

If you need an editor … I need the experience

If you need an editor … I’m not a great fit but …


All of these comments were taken from Twitter within the last six months. And they all appeared more than once, by different people, at different times and from different countries.

The potential ‘clients’ actually needed video editors, developmental editors, copy editors, proofreaders, copywriters and writing coaches. But hey, an editor is an editor on social media.

writing and editorial professsional despairing

Social media is great, don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it does seem to facilitate a race to the bottom. Everywhere you turn there are ‘experts’ who will tell you what you want to hear, potential clients who are in desperate need of help and professionals who are trying to keep their businesses afloat.

It may be controversial (or perhaps it isn’t) but sometimes, as professionals, we don’t really help ourselves. You can see it clearly from the comments above. Creative shaming is something I wrote about last year, but there has to come a time when creative professionals decide what is important in their working lives and start to help themselves.


Stop the race to the bottom, value your services.

To stop this awful race to the bottom, and to make it less acceptable to pay creatives a pittance (or even nothing, because, hell, exposure is great), we all need to value our services.

Writing and editing are valuable skills:

If everyone could do it there would be no typos, bad grammar or just plain awful prose in the world.

If our skills weren’t valuable there would be no need for editorial professionals or professional writers.

writing services


Writing and editing – the hidden talent.

Businesses rely on conveying a message, and that message should be concise, clear and articulate. The creatives behind business communication are often well hidden, but professional writers, editors and proofreaders can make the business more attractive to clients. And that skill has value.

Authors rely on crafting a great story, and that story should be a pleasure to read. The creatives that help behind the scenes are often well hidden, but editorial professionals can make a good story into a great story. And that skill has value.


Embrace your skills.

We must get out of the mindset that ours skills are of little value, and embrace our knowledge for what it is – hard graft that comes through years of experience and training. We may enjoy what we do, but our skills have value to others.

Creatives help to make the world a brighter place, and help businesses grow and flourish, so they should be treated as professionals and paid well for their expertise. And that needs to start with the creative professionals themselves. We need to value our skills and help others to value them too.

I’m lucky, I have great clients who value my services. But that may be because I know my value, understand the value of great training and help potential clients to understand what they really need. I refuse to do something just because a client thinks they need it: if they don’t need a service I won’t do it. I also refuse to join in a race to the bottom, even if it means missing out on work.


Learn to say no.

If you are a professional creative you are skilful, confident and competent. You are also engaged in an activity as a paid occupation. It is your job.

It can be really difficult to say no when someone needs help, but you have to take on work that pays you enough to settle your bills and buy the odd bottle of Prosecco. If your business has you taking on low-paid work (and let’s admit it, we have all done it), you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. If you can’t pay your bills it isn’t. If you’re taking on low-paid work because you need a filler you are going to kick yourself when you have to say no to a decent commission, because your time is being monopolised by the job that has you working for below minimum wage.

Freelancer learning to say no


Fight back.

So, it’s time to fight back. Just because you can help doesn’t mean you have to help.

Your professional expertise has cost you:

              Time – you didn’t become a competent professional creative overnight.


              Money  – for training and equipment.


Even if you are starting out, you have the skills and training. If this is your job, it is your livelihood.


Have the answers ready.

It can be daunting to take that leap and decide that from now on you will only work for a decent wage. It’s scary – you may never work again, you have bills to pay, you need to eat. Yes, but it’s a vicious cycle; once you start accepting low-paid work, or you work for ‘exposure’, your mindset follows and you start to believe that you are only worth that minimum wage or that you need the ‘exposure’.

So take a stand. Know your worth. Here are the answers:


I need an editor … you’ll be rewarded  (Great, thanks, my rates are …)

I need an editor … you’ll get great exposure (Great, thanks, my rates are …)

I need an editor … fast   (Great, thanks, my rush rates are …)

I need an editor … I don’t mind paying  (Great, thanks, my rates are …)

I need an editor … willing to pay (Great, thanks, my rates are …)

I need an editor … for free  (Great, thanks, but I don’t work for free. My rates are …)


And here is what you should say:

If you need an editor … I’ll do it cheap    my rates are …

If you need an editor … I need the money    my rates are …

If you need an editor … I need a job     I have some flexibility in my schedule, my rates are …

If you need an editor … I need the experience    my rates are …

If you need an editor … I’m not a great fit but    I would love to expand into this area, my rates are …



5 Ways To Communicate Well

good communication

I’ve been away (did you miss me?).

I had a lovely, well-deserved, trip home to meet my new nephew. But as usual the drive south was eventful. Every time I hit the Forth Road Bridge (not literally), once I get over the water, I head down the wrong road. It’s been made worse in recent years due to new roads and roadworks but, honestly, every single time I head south I take a wrong turn. And I’ve been doing it for the last 18 years. You’d think by now I’d have managed to get to grips with it. This time we ended up heading towards Edinburgh city centre.

I don’t have a satnav, so I use road signs to direct me and, to be perfectly frank, the signs towards the south from the Forth Road Bridge are the worst I think I’ve encountered. There’s the M8, M9 and A720 to navigate, but very rarely do the signs direct the driver to The South. This time, for some reason, we ended up heading down the A90 rather than the M9. But hey ho, it only added an extra ten minutes onto a 12 hour drive, so it’s no real problem.

But it did set my work brain tingling.

Communication is the key to everything, without it everyone gets lost.

question marks, lost communication

From crappy road signs to instructions for flat pack furniture and company guidelines, if information isn’t communicated correctly it can cause problems for customers, clients, users and everyone else in-between.

So here are five tips for business communication. Whether you are a small business, a large conglomerate or a sole trader (or in charge of signage somewhere), this stuff is important:

  1. Be Clear.

If the information isn’t clear enough to understand, then the user won’t benefit from your expertise. What is the point in taking time to create documentation if no-one can understand it? Unless your audience is an audience of experts:

              Keep things simple.

              Avoid jargon.

              Use plain language.

  1. Avoid Bad English.

You may have made your documentation easy to understand, but bad English will make your work less credible. To communicate effectively you need to make sure that your English is correct. Check for pesky spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Have your work edited and proofread. Make your writing the best it can be.

  1. Don’t Talk To The Wrong Audience.

When writing you have to make sure that you know your audience. Who exactly are you writing for? Different audiences will have different expectations and subject knowledge. There’s no point going into minute detail when writing about your latest innovation if the readership hasn’t a clue what you are talking about. Pitch your writing at the correct level and communication will be less bothersome.

  1. Don’t Assume Intelligence.

Linked in to knowing your audience, never assume intelligence unless you are writing for a team of experts (and I mean this in the nicest way). Don’t dumb down, but keep in mind that your audience may not have a clue about the subject and is approaching it for the first time. Don’t treat them as idiots, but make things clear to your readership to allow them to digest the information without having to do background reading.

  1. Take Things Step By Step.

If you are writing instructions, be clear and make sure that every single step has been covered. Don’t miss anything out, even if it seems obvious – it won’t be obvious to some people. If you are writing documentation for a product or service, make sure that everything that needs to be covered has been. Check your document to make sure everything is logical and in the right place. By taking it one step at a time your readers are less likely to get lost.

So, there you have five quick tips for effective communication. It isn’t rocket science, but will help you when there is writing to be done. And if you feel like hiring a writer, you can always contact me and check my availability.