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July 10, 2015 | Back to All Articles

Photo Credit:Horia Varlan

In grammar and punctuation, as in football, the most important contributors to the team are often overlooked. While “wide receiver divas” like the comma demand all the attention, the “workhorse linemen” of punctuation are frequently doing much of the heavy lifting required to compose a winning paragraph.

Today, I would like to shine a spotlight on one of these crucial, if not the most glamorous, pieces of grammar: the apostrophe. Here are three cases I regularly see where writers fail to properly use an apostrophe:

1) “Who’s” vs. “Whose” – This one is a particularly unfortunate mix-up that I see all too often. It seems as if people naturally default to using “whose” in all situations, when in fact that is simply the possessive tense of “who.” If you want to abbreviate “who is,” then go with “who’s.”

Here is an example of correct usage of both cases:

– Allen: “Hey, Bill, who’s that guy with the large ranch a little south of here?”
– Bill: “Oh! That would be my cousin John, whose livestock expertise and charisma know no bounds.”

2) “You’re” vs. “Your” – Again, this error is made so regularly that I wonder if people even care anymore? I sure hope they do, because “your” is not always your best choice. If you are looking to abbreviate “you are,” then you should be using “you’re.” Otherwise, you’re going to look a little foolish.

Here’s another example of how each should be used properly:

– Allen: “Hey Bill, whatever happened to your cousin, John?”
– Bill: “You’re not going to believe this: his ranch is going to be featured on a new Discovery Channel reality show!”
– Allen: “You’re kidding me! How on Earth did he pull that off?”
– Bill: “Your guess is as good as mine!”

3) “It’s” vs. “Its” – Once again, this is an issue of abbreviation vs. possessive. If you are trying to say “it is” or “it has,” then the word you are looking for is “it’s.” And as tempting as it is to use “it’s” as a possessive, that is improper—the correct term is “its.”

A final example of how to use each one correctly:

– Allen: “Hey, did you hear the news about your cousin’s show? Apparently, it’s been canceled.”
– Bill: “Oh no! Well, its ratings were pretty lousy, so I guess I understand why they had to pull the plug.”
– Allen: “Still, it’s too bad.”

Hopefully these tips will help keep your written communications looking polished and professional!

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