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Apostrophes

Read about the correct usage of apostrophes in this article.
© USQ

The apostrophe has two main jobs: to create contractions and to signify possession. To focus the discussion on apostrophes, only the common mistakes will be discussed.

There are often questions about whether to add the extra ‘s’ on a noun like “Jess”, and the answer is this:

  • Add the extra ‘s’ on a singular noun, like a first name (Jess’s pencil)
  • Do not add the extra ‘s’ on a plural noun, like a group (students’ pencils)

The below table from Roslyn Petelin’s book How writing works is a great reference for possessive apostrophes.

Possessive apostrophe examples

This rule also applies with the expression “I have seven years’ experience”, as the experience belongs to the seven years. If in doubt with this, you can say “I have seven years of experience”.

A common misuse of the apostrophe in professional writing is found when referring to qualifications.

Here is how you should write them:

  • I have a bachelor’s degree in business.
  • I have a Bachelor of Business.
  • This role requires a master’s degree.
  • This role requires a Master of Business Administration.

Another mistake is the unnecessary use of apostrophes on decades and abbreviations. For example, it is incorrect to write “In the 1980’s, there was an increase in businesses hiring external CEO’s.”

In this example, the 1980s aren’t owning anything in the sentence and neither are the CEOs. It would be different if it were “the 1980’s movie culture…” or “the CEO’s coffee…”. When writing these, make sure to ask, “what is it owning?”. If the answer is nothing, forget the apostrophe.

Petelin, Roslyn. (2016). How writing works. Allen and Unwin.
© USQ
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