How correctly using apostrophes can separate you from your peers

An editor once told my friend to never send a pitch to him again because the editor saw repeated social media posts by my friend that had the incorrect use of “its.” Another friend wrote “lets” to an editor when she really meant “let’s,” and then received a message replying “Please only send me pitches once you’ve learned grade-school grammar.”

Let’s face it: It’s been a while since we last enrolled in grade-school grammar. So it doesn’t hurt to brush up on some common mistakes to avoid. Like that dinky little apostrophe. It is such a small, barely visible typography mark that makes a humongous difference to how your writing (and, at times, intelligence level) is perceived. The Grammar Police (AKA, editors) are pretty stern when it comes to these two grammatical tools. But you can easily separate yourself from the common grammar felons and not fall victim to an editor’s black ball.

“Its” vs. “It’s”

While writing affords individuals a chance for creativity, there are still rules by which to abide. It’s like math: 2 + 2 will never equal 71; and “it’s” will never serve as a pronoun in a possessive format. So what does that exactly mean?

“Its” (i.e., NO apostrophe) is solely used as a possessive for the pronoun “it.” Only use “its” without an apostrophe to indicate possession. For example:

Every dog has its day.

England has a prime minister for its government.

For some reason, some people think “it’s” is used for possession. It’s not. “It’s” is a contraction that combines “it is.” As a contraction, it functions similarly to “can’t” and “won’t.” For example: 

It’s not easy to bake macarons from scratch. (It is not easy to bake macarons from scratch.)

How can we open the door if it’s locked? (How can we open the door if it is locked?) 

Tip: When writing, substitute the non-contracted form (i.e., “it is”) into the sentence to see if it makes sense. If it does, then using “it’s” is correct. If it doesn’t make sense, then use “its.” Otherwise, you get 2 + 2 to equal 71.

“Let’s” vs. “Lets”

It’s the same concept as “its” and “it’s.” “Let’s is a contraction for “Let us.” For example:

Let’s go see Aunt Susan. (Let us go see Aunt Susan.)

Let’s wait a few minutes to go swimming. (Let us wait a few minutes to go swimming.”

“Lets” is a synonym for “allows.” For example:

My mom lets me drive in our neighborhood.

The slack in the rope lets you climb easier.

Tip: Again, when in doubt, substitute the non-contracted form (i.e., “let us”) into the sentence to see if it makes sense. 

“You’re” vs. “Your”

This one is a major problem that is running rampant all over Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else. It also falls under the same auspices as the previous examples. “You’re” is used to denote the contracted form of “you are.” For example:

You’re welcome. (You are welcome.)

I’m not sure what you’re talking about. (I’m not sure what you are talking about.)

“Your” is used to show ownership. For example:

Can I borrow your phone?

When is Sally going to return your car?

Unnecessarily adding an apostrophe to a plural word

Apostrophes are only used to show possession or to replace letters in a contracted word. Nothing else. If your word does NOT necessitate the two above-mentioned cases, then no apostrophe is needed. The following are INCORRECT uses of apostrophes:

The four table’s have wooden legs. ← Incorrect

I spot four palm tree’s on this street. ← Incorrect


This blog post was written by:

Nila Do Simon

journalist | writer | editor | touchdown maker


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