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3 steps to apostrophes: a copywriter’s guide

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Apostrophes need not be a catastrophe. Yet they are one of the top five grammar concerns. Perhaps the reason apostrophes make some folk (even writers) freak out is that there are so many rules.

So how can a copywriter best explain the rules? A top business copywriter or creative copywriter is most likely able to follow the rules without thinking about them. For anyone else, I would suggest three steps to help you remember. Likewise, if you are not a copywriter, but are concerned about being judged by your apostrophes, I’d recommend you check over your writing using these three questions. They are designed to help you decide how to use an apostrophe.


Three questions to ask when using apostrophes:

  1. Does the word own something?
  2. How many are there?
  3. Has the word been shortened from two words?


Here’s a sentence that has had all its apostrophes removed:

The copywriters pens arent very nice to use.


Now we can apply it to all three questions.

  1. Does the word own something?

Do the copywriters own the pens? Yes. So the word ‘copywriters’ needs an apostrophe. But where does it go? This leads us to the next question.


  1. How many are there?

If there is only one copywriter, the apostrophe goes before the S.

The copywriter’s pens arent very nice to use.


If there are two or more copywriters, the apostrophe goes after the S.

The copywriters’ pens arent very nice to use.


  1. Has the word been shortened from two words?

This is the question with the most rules attached to it. So here goes! Firstly, the word ‘arent’ is an abbreviation of ‘are not’ so it requires an apostrophe.

The copywriters’ pens aren’t very nice to use.


Now, what about this sentence?

The copywriters use pens.


The copywriters don’t own the pens in this instance, so there is no need for an apostrophe. Wait, even if there are two copywriters? That’s right.


Now, what about things that have been shortened, like acronyms, for example NASA?

If NASA owns a spacestation, it should have an apostrophe.

It is NASA’s spacestation.


What if there are two NASAs? No apostrophe required. Although it is an abbreviation, it is not bringing together two words.

There are two NASAs.


Another example of words that are shortened that often confuses is the use of ‘its’ and ‘it’s’. Same rule applies: are you shortening two words into one? It is = it’s.


But if not, it doesn’t need an apostrophe.

NASA sent its astronauts into space.


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