Apostrophes and Quotation Marks: When to Use Them


When it comes to punctuation, the two most common kinds of errors involve the use of apostrophes and quotation marks. The rules governing the use of apostrophes and quotation marks are, for the most part, clear and unyielding.

Let us review apostrophes first. They are used for two purposes: to show possession and for contractions.

To show possession of something or someone by a singular noun, an apostrophe followed by an “s” is used, as in the following examples:

  • The doctor’s office was crowded.
  • My younger son’s friends are coming for dinner tonight.
  • Where is Marty’s coat?
  • That is the girl’s necklace.
  • This is Charles’s coat. (Notice that, even though “Charles” ends in an “s,” it is still necessary to add an apostrophe and another “s.”)

The only time that you would add just an apostrophe to the end of a noun ending in “s” would be if adding an apostrophe and an “s” would change the pronunciation of the word, as in the following:

  • We have discussed Sophocles’ body of work.

It should not be “Sophocles’s work.” That would change the pronunciation of “Sophocles.”

When you are indicating possession by plural nouns, just an apostrophe is added, as in the following examples:

  • All of the girls’ mothers came to the reception.
  • That building contains several doctors’ offices.

Irregular plural nouns require the addition of an apostrophe and an “s,” as in the following:

  • That is the children’s room.
  • He decided to join the men’s club.

Contractions are formed by combining two words. Apostrophes are added in place of letters which have been dropped, as in the following examples:

  • should not……shouldn’t
  • could not……..couldn’t
  • she will…………she’ll
  • it is……………….it’s (This should not be confused with the possessive form of “it,” which is “its” (no apostrophe).
  • you are…………you’re
  • cannot (always written as one word)…….can’t

Quotation marks are correctly used only to indicate the actual words that someone has said or written or sung, around the titles of certain created works, and to set off unique phrases.

To indicate speech:
The following are examples of quotation marks being used to indicate the actual words of a speaker or those in a written work or a song:

  • “My brother has been gone all day,” Ken said.
  • “Do you know where he could possibly be?” asked Ralph.
  • “Well,” Ken replied, “he could be anywhere.”
  • I am always thrilled when I hear the phrase “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The titles of newspaper, magazine articles, or periodical articles, the titles of short stories, plays, films, musical pieces, poems, essays, and television and radio programs should be enclosed in quotation marks.

Unique phrases or irony:
Quotation marks may be used to indicate that a word or phrase is unique and should, therefore, be set apart from the rest of a sentence, as in the following:

  • Tom decided that he did not want to be part of “the moral majority.”

Here is an example of quotation marks being used to indicate irony:

  • Well, I am going to show my boss just how “irresponsible” I can be.

More often than not, errors involving the use of apostrophes and quotation marks have to do with their overuse. They should not be used to emphasize important phrases. The following is an example of that:

  • Everyone is invited to the “Big Sale.”

As stated above, the rules involving the use of apostrophes and quotation marks are clear. Learning how to use them involves simply studying the rules.

Proofreading and Editing Your Website


When people surf the Net, whether they are digging for information, looking for an answer to a question, searching for a company with which to do business, or for any other reason, they expect the information that they come across to be properly presented and accurate. Incorrect spelling, imprecise wording, and errors in punctuation can give the impression that the information that is being presented may not be authentic. Whether or not that is the case, once a visitor to a site has spotted errors in the writing, he or she is unlikely to read on.

It is very important for those who write the content of websites to use the highest level of English usage. Properly written sentences, reasonable transitions between paragraphs, and interesting vocabulary are necessary in order to produce a site that is readable and which inspires confidence in the reader.

Here are a few tips to follow when writing website content:

  1. Keep paragraphs short: While there is no rule in terms of the correct length of a paragraph, there are some guidelines. A paragraph should be two sentences or more, all of which are about the same topic. It should not, if at all possible, exceed twelve full sentences or 200 words or take up more than half of a page.
  2. Try not to fall victim to common spelling errors: It is easy to make spelling mistakes. English is a difficult language because so many words have irregular spellings. Consider enough. The only way to know how to spell that word, and many others like it, is to memorize it. How about words that have silent letters, such as comb? Then there are words which seem to run in the opposite direction from spelling rules, such as done. Typically, a group of letters which is composed of a vowel-consonant-e combination, such as that word, should have a long sound. This word, however, is pronounced dun. It has a short vowel sound. On the other hand, bone is pronounced with a long vowel sound. And, how about homophones, words that sound the same, but are spelled differently? English abounds with them. Here are a few examples: there and their, one and won, our and hour, find and fined…In any case, what can you do in terms of spelling correctly? There are three solutions: use a spell check program, rely on a dictionary, or submit your papers to an editing service.
  3. Use correct punctuation and usage: This is difficult. Even professional writers find punctuation, especially the placement of commas and quotation marks, a difficult skill to master. There are a few simple rules that you can follow. These should help you to avoid a number of common errors: a) Use capital letters only for the beginnings of sentences, titles, and the beginnings of quotes. b) End all sentences with periods. c) Use semicolons (;) only rarely. They are generally used in place of periods, between two complete sentences that are very close to each other in terms of their topics. When you use a semi colon, do not begin the second sentence with a capital letter; it is a related phrase. The previous sentence is an example of the proper use of a semi colon. d) Write full sentences. A full sentence has a subject and a predicate. e) Do not overuse apostrophes. Apostrophes are not used to pluralize words. The plural of doctor is doctors. No apostrophe should be there. Apostrophes are used only for possession and for contractions. Here are examples: That is the doctor’s car…and…I can’t help you.
  4. Remain true to your topic: Attempt to stay on your topic. You can, and should, write about varying aspects of your topic, but do not go too far afield, especially within a sentence. When you change topics, even slightly, attempt to use words and phrases which allow for smooth transitions between them.
  5. Be consistent: Use the same spelling for words throughout your document. Check your written work to ensure that you do not spell, for example, the name of a cited author as Connor in one place, and Connors, in another.
  6. Do not rely on spell check: You should use your software to check your spelling and usage, but you absolutely must also re-read your work to find the errors that only your perusal can discover.
  7. Copy quotations carefully: Unless you are copying and pasting text, there is always the possibility that you will transcribe a direct quote incorrectly. This is an error that must be avoided.
  8. Make sure your sentences agree: Words in your sentences must agree in terms of gender, number, and tense. This is also true of sentences within a paragraph or a longer section of text. For instance, if you are citing a female, then you must use pronouns that refer to females, such as she and her. If you are referring to several cities, do not use the pronoun it. When discussing events that occurred in the past or people who are no longer alive, do not use verbs in the present tense, such as builds or speaks.
  9. Do not assume the reader knows what you are talking about: Do not refer to ideas or books or events or people unless you have mentioned them in previous sentences. A writer may forget that the reader does not know the information in a piece of writing as well as he or she does. New ideas need to be introduced and, sometimes, explained.
  10. If you are citing statistics or facts which are not universally known, you must insert the appropriate sources: Readers want to be assured that assertions are based upon facts, and not on whimsy or guesswork.

You may feel that you need professional help to proofread or to edit your website content. There are many reliable proofreading and editing companies out there. Some of them specialize in website content.

Remember: regardless of the content of the website, it must be well written.