Very few things in day-to-day life irritate editors more than the use, or rather, the misuse of the apostrophe. Unfortunately, much of the world seems to be, on the whole, fairly oblivious to grammar crimes associated with apostrophes. Most people seem to think nothing of throwing apostrophes around blithely, without a care, with not a thought as to whether they should actually be there or not.
Case in point: last weekend, as I was walking through a parking lot (after buying my parking ticket, of course) I spotted a sign: “Violator’s will be prosecuted.” This sentence, of course, makes no sense at all. If you parse it out, the apostrophe is substituting for a missing “i” so the message is, “Violator is will be prosecuted.” This mangled sentence has two verbs: “is” and “will.” The writer was probably trying to make the singular noun, “violator” into the plural noun “violators” but it all went horribly wrong when that apostrophe was so carelessly flung in. A simple “s” would have done the trick, no apostrophe needed, and the sign-maker’s now-shattered reputation for literacy would have been intact.
It’s true that apostrophes carry out a multitude of jobs in the punctuation world. I love Lynn Truss’s chapter on apostrophes in her book, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.” She points out that the apostrophe carries out eight different roles in punctuation, the most famous being the apostrophe of omission.
The rule is: the word “it’s” (with apostrophe) stands for “it is” or “it has”. If the word does not stand for “it is” or “it has”, then what you require is “its”.
She goes on, “One might dare to say that while the full stop is the lumpen male of the punctuation world (do one job at a time, do it well, forget it instantly), the apostrophe is the frantically multi-tasking female, dotting hither and yon, and succumbing to burn-out from all the thankless effort.”
Burned-out apostrophes, unite!