Ah, the apostrophe. It always amazes me how one of the tiniest and most innocent looking forms of punctuation can strike fear in everyone who writes in the English language.
Though it does randomly get inserted and suspiciously omitted from many passages of text, it’s the age-old conundrum of which side of the ‘s’ to put it – or even if one need be there at all – that leaves people scratching their head.
But there’s no real mystery to it, by applying some simple logic you should get it right every time.
Apostrophe v. no apostrophe
My best tip – particularly when an apostrophe is used to denote character omission – is when checking through what you are writing, try and do so by reading out words in their un-contracted form. For example:
“The butcher told me that it’s going to snow.”
This is a correct use of an apostrophe on “it’s”, as it is short for, well, “it is”. This makes even more sense when reading the sentence out fully, i.e. “The butcher told me that it is going to snow.” The apostrophe’s inclusion, in this instance, is used in place of the “i” of “is”. Applying this same logic to the following example should make things clearer still:
“The dog wagged its tail.”
I reckon at least half of the population would be very tempted to add an apostrophe into “its” so the sentence becomes, “The dog wagged it’s tail.” When read out in full, like the previous example, the sentence loses all sense: “The dog wagged it is tail.” Using this technique should hopefully reduce the chances of you adding in an apostrophe where it isn’t wanted!
Possession isn’t nine tenths of the law
When looking at possession, it can be similarly straightforward, such as “Susan’s mother”. And remember, it doesn’t have to be a living or even physical thing to be able to possess something, e.g. “the year’s events”. And then of course when the possession relates to more than one person or thing, stick the apostrophe after the ‘s’, for example, “the ladies’ taxi was waiting”.
Simples (note, no apostrophe).
For a decent overview of the wonderful world of apostrophes check out the Wikipedia page.