Kung Fu Secrets of B2B Copywriting: Don’t Fear Apostrophes

In this video, David gives a crash course to getting apostrophes right – and shares the main reason why many people don’t...

People just seem to have a blind spot with apostrophes. They know the rules, can tell you what they are… and then they get it wrong anyway.

They worry that everyone’s secretly judging them. (And sometimes, they’re right.)

And here’s the secret: nine times out of ten, there’s one reason why people include an apostrophe when they shouldn’t. And it’s simply because the word looks weird without it.

Overcome that knee-jerk mistake, and you’re most of the way to getting it right.

I go into more detail in the video above (and if it’s still not clear, Emily explains it brilliantly in our kinetic typography video, here).

Here (so grammar pedants can point out the errors) is what the video says:

I said we weren’t going to do grammar pedantry stuff tonight, and we’re not. However, this is a thing that people really get worried about.

OK, so if you are talking about more than one of something — if you have added an S on the end because there’s more than one of something and you’re indicating a plural — you don’t need an apostrophe.

If you are showing possession — so something that belongs to somebody — and you put an S on there for that: “Jordan’s shirt is blue.” Then it’s apostrophe S.

If you are missing out the letter “i” as in “is” — “David’s sitting over here” — that does need an apostrophe because you’re missing something out. But you don’t use it for plurals.

And “it’s” is hard because “it’s” is the exception that proves the rule.

On “its”, meaning something that belongs to it — “The Sun has got its hat on” — “it” doesn’t take an apostrophe.

“Its” doesn’t take an apostrophe, unless it is “it is”. So that’s the exception, which is annoying. The English language is full of annoying exceptions.

Now, most people kind of get that. But I do want to pick on examples that people who know that rule anyway still get wrong. Nine times out of ten when you see an apostrophe in the wrong place it will be because of this:

When you’ve got an acronym, people think sticking an S on the end looks weird — and it does. It just looks weird. And so you think, “Well, it must have an apostrophe.”

So you get GCSEs — GCSE is a thing. If you stick an S on the end, it looks odd, so you get GCSE’s.

Same with TVs.

It’s the same with abbreviations, especially if they end in a vowel. You see talk about the greengrocer’s apostrophe — but think about “caulis”, as in short for cauliflowers.

“Caulis” looks like it’s pronounced “collis”. And so they stick an apostrophe-s on it to show it’s not “collis” it’s “caulis”.

But it’s wrong. You don’t actually need an apostrophe there or there, unless you’re saying, “The TV’s on,” or, “The TV’s screen is marvellous.” That’s fine.

Saying, “There are lots of TVs in this shop,” you don’t need it.

I think we have one more example. Oh yes, we have! Just as a point of interest.

OK, two things about Shakin’ Stevens.

Yeah, obviously here you’ve got the apostrophe on “Shakin’” because it’s an abbreviation. It’s not Shaking Stevens. I wonder if it’s actually on his driving license. I don’t know.

With the apostrophe — that’s how Shakin’ Stevens spells it.

However, the thing that’s really interesting is what about something that belongs to Shakin’ Stevens? How do we do the apostrophe S on there?

OK, for example: Shakin’ Stevens’ game for the ZX Spectrum.

This is actually a thing! At the end of an album.

I don’t know if you remember Sinclair Spectrums, but you had a tape that went [extremely lifelike impression] and that’s how they loaded. And if you recorded onto tape this track on the end of one of Shaky’s albums you had a little game, which is really random.

Now, the thing that people ask is: is it Shakin’ Stevens’ game S then apostrophe, as you would do with the thing that’s plural, or is it Shakin’ Stevens’s game where it’s Shakin’ Stevens S apostrophe S?

And — if you look at the are the usage guides of the major magazines of the world — the answer is…

There is no answer. It’s just whatever sounds right.

So say it out loud. If you would generally say “Shakin’ Stevens’ game” go with that; if you would generally say “Shaking’ Stevenses game” then it’s S-apostrophe-S.

It’s the sounds right when you say it, and most of the time it’s fairly obvious.

Want more copywriting tips?

Check out the next video, and find out why you need to be specific in your content.

(Or watch the full Kung Fu Copywriting playlist here.)


David served as our Creative Director for almost eight years, before establishing a standalone practice focusing on B2B creativity and copywriting training and guidance. We continue to work closely together, with David supporting our clients as an associate as and when needed.

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