The Apostrophe in Daily Use – with Real Life Examples (2)


Here’s a sign from one of my favourite coffee shops. Colourfully written on a huge blackboard outside the front door, the warm and friendly message is very inviting. From a marketing point of view, the business is using the sign to establish its uniqueness and to differentiate it from its (many) competitors.

But there are two basic apostrophe errors. Would you have spotted them?

It’s important to think about how they affect the marketing message. Do they reduce its impact, or change the way you feel about the cafe? Is this marketing strategy wasted because of the errors?

Do apostrophes matter in your writing?

Following last week, this blog features more local signage and printed texts I’ve collected. They illustrate another key apostrophe rule and the one thing that you must never do with an apostrophe … no matter what you see on signs or in your local newspaper!

Test your apostrophe know-how with the Qs and As below.

Apostrophes for short forms

1. Rule: Use an apostrophe to replace one or more missing letters in short forms.

The use of apostrophes in short forms is probably the least problematic of the apostrophe rules. For example, we’ll is the short form of ‘we will’. These three (correct!) examples are from a magazine.

  ApostropheQ. Notice that it’s appears in both the second and third images. What’s the long form in each case?

A. In the second image it’s is the short form of ‘it has’ and in the third it’s the short form of ‘it is’.

Apostrophe example

Short forms (aka ‘contractions’) are very common in informal writing that reflects the way we usually speak, such as blogs, emails and personal notes.

On the other hand, full forms tend to be used in more formal texts including academic papers, grant and job applications, business letters and some educational/training material.






Here are two (incorrect) examples from a shop sign and a newspaper ad.


This blue sign is near a local butcher’s.

Q. Look at the text in the arrow at the bottom of the sign. What’s wrong?

A. There’s an apostrophe missing. It should read, Life’s too short .. (for ‘Life is ..’).

(And did you notice the ‘l’ missing from the very top of the sign?)






Here’s a newspaper ad promoting training workshops.

Q. Can you see the error?

A. WHAT’S needs an apostrophe. It’s the short form of ‘What is ..’.

Basic apostrophe rules & examples: summary

(More in last week’s blog.)

MegMatthewCollageRule: Add ‘s to singular nouns to show ownership.





Rule: For plural nouns that end in ‘s’, add  to show ownership (or association).




childrenswomensRule: For plural nouns that don’t end in ‘s’, add ‘s to show ownership.




coffeemeatRule: Use an apostrophe to replace one or more missing letters in short forms.




Almost finally, here’s the big apostrophe no-no.

Never add an apostrophe just because a word ends in ‘s’. Even if the word is plural, it doesn’t need an apostrophe unless one of the other rules applies.

Look at these examples on a deli sign and in the paper. All of them have a misplaced apostrophe.


Holidays  Drifters


And to finish off with …

Q: Can you explain the corrections to the blackboard image at the top of the page?


A: Smiles doesn’t need an apostrophe. It’s a simple plural (no ownership, no short form). It’s is the short form for ‘it is’, so it does need an apostrophe.

Luckily for me, I’m not such an apostrophe snob that I refuse to enter the shop (and the coffee’s truly excellent!). But in other contexts, I’m easily put off a produce or service by careless punctuation in its marketing.

I’d love to know how you feel about apostrophe use. Is it something you find easy in your own writing, or is there someone you check with? Do you notice mistakes around town, and if so, what’s your reaction? If you’re reading about a product or service, how do you feel if you spot an error? And if you write regularly yourself, how might it affect your readers if your work contains mistakes? Do apostrophes matter for you?

Keep your eyes open in your own community, and check for apostrophes on signs and in the paper. Better still, post a photo or two to Facebook and add to the collection. It sure beats leafing through a textbook!

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  1. I notice mistakes – probably not every one, but certainly the blatantly obvious ones. And I do judge as a result. Unfortunately, this also means I take too much time over some of my emails to make sure they are as grammatically correct as I can get them. It’s not very efficient. Love your work

    • Thanks, Genius. You just have to believe that the extra time you put into your emails earns your credibility and respect among your readers. In which case, it could be well worth every second.

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