Apostrophes and the Abusive Author

apostrophesThere are plenty of authors out there splicing commas and butchering metaphors, but there is another crime that some are guilty of doing.

Apostrophe abuse.

This abuse happens when apostrophes are used incorrectly, but there is also another form of  this abuse, and if I could have only one pet peeve as an editor it would be apostrophes facing the wrong way.

Apostrophes are used to show possessive nouns (Jack’s, Jill’s) and contractions of pronouns (she’s, he’s) and omissions of letters like in contractions (don’t, can’t, won’t), or other missing letters or numbers (Class of ’14, twist ‘n’ shout).*

[*For the sake of full disclosure, Cherie Reich spotted my error in the paragraph above. I’ve since made my changes. See the comments below.]

Regardless of how it’s used, the apostrophe should face away from the word whether using straight or curly quotes.

The following is an example of the sentence, “It’s about time.” The examples below show how the apostrophe is used to denote the missing letter “a” in the word “about.”


Correct:  It’s bout time.

Incorrect:  It’s bout time.


If you saw the following, wouldn’t you be able to tell that something wasn’t right?






So why is it so hard for writers to make sure their apostrophes face the correct way? In my opinion, there are three reasons.

1)  They don’t know how to do it while typing.

2)  Ignorance

3)  Laziness

The first one is easy to address, so let’s do it now.

Unless you’re making a contraction, hitting the apostrophe key won’t work when trying to show omission if you’re using curly quotes. The way you get the apostrophe to face the correct way is to type two single quotes with no space between them:


Delete the first quote and you get:

Got it? It’s ’bout time! If there is another, faster way to do this, please let me know, but this is simple enough.

It doesn’t matter whether your word processing program is set (or you set it) to use curly (smart) quotes or straight (dumb) quotes. Unless your straight quotes are completely straight up-and-down, even so-called “straight” quotes will have a slant to them.

straight, up-and-down quotes
straight, up-and-down quotes
straight apostrophe (notice the slant?)
straight apostrophe (notice the slant?)


However, issues 2 and 3 represent a personal problem with the writer, and if they want their writing to be taken seriously, they need to step up their game or just quit. Yes, I said it.

Some of you reading this may think I’m overreacting, but in my opinion, this is what separates serious writers (and editors) who care about the craft of writing and want to present a professional image and those writers (and editors) who don’t give a damn.

Besides, I’m not just a writer, I am also a READER. Don’t insult my intelligence or your reading audience’s intelligence by thinking that no one will notice or care. Recently on my [REALITY CHECK] blog I wrote a post about having respect for your readers. Check it out.

I’m not the only person out there who hates this kind of sloppiness. Don’t believe me? Here’s another blog post with a rather sexy title.

“Apostrophes don’t swing both ways,” by Julie Elman.

It may have been written in 2007, but suffice it to say that it is still an issue today.

I am not alone. If you read Elman’s post you will find there are groups that have united over this issue.

“My name is Legion: for we are many.”


Here are some examples of apostrophe abuse.

from The Naked Copywriter blog
from The Naked Copywriter blog


from Grammerly blog
from Grammarly Blog
"smart" quotes aren't always smart
“smart” quotes aren’t always smart


And you know cats have to have their say:




apostrophe cat2





©2014. Zetta Brown

6 thoughts on “Apostrophes and the Abusive Author

  1. I know what you mean, Zetta! I couldn’t tell you how many times I have to fix this when editing for other people. It always makes me excited when someone does apostrophes right because so many write them the wrong way. I usually do what you do to create them in Word, but you can also use the symbol one and create an easier short cut key to insert it into the manuscript.

    By the way, on the subject of grammar, pronouns never take apostrophes when they are possessive (she = her, he = his, etc.). Of course, I know you know that. 🙂

    1. Hi Cherie, you are right. I meant to put she’s/he’s as examples of contractions. Geez. I need a proofreader! I’ll change it, but only goes to show that editors are people too 🙂

  2. Well, Zetta, didn’t you just sink my battleship??? *sigh*

    Still, the reverse apostrophe is good to know, since I do aspire to editor perfection. And it’s also good to know that I got ‘bout everything right…except, of course, the ’bout! Thanx for the formatting tip, especially.

    And I’m waving hiya from NY to TX, sure you’re settled in and baking nicely in the heat!



    Faith Freewoman

    Demon for Details Manuscript Editing

    w/a Vivian Hadleigh

    w/a Emmy Waterbury romances

  3. My editor corrected me on this in my first book. I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, didn’t even know such a thing existed! Anyway, I just followed your blog – and your nano – and I am thrilled to see your simple fix for this problem. Thanks! (I’m Ssoro on nano)

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