Grammar 101: Apostrophes

As a copywriter, it’s my job to make sure the spelling, punctuation, and grammar of our copy is as close to perfect as possible while still maintaining that sizzle you’ve all come to know and love. After all, our website – the writing, the images, the streamlined design – is a reflection of our company as a whole.

Your promotional products represent you in every way. They demonstrate the quality of your products and services, the considerations of your customer’s needs, and your ability to pass a fourth grade English class. But there’s only one QLP Jana, and her undying loyalty is pledged to Quality Logo Products. So how do you make sure your writing is reflecting positively on your organization? Check out a few of the simple rules for using apostrophes below and avoid looking like an angry preteen on a Twilight forum (YOUR IGNARINT IF U DONT LYKE VAMPIERS!!!11).


An apostrophe does two basic things: it lets you know that letters are missing (Shake ‘n’ Bake), or indicates possession (Bret’s company).

its = possessive pronoun (see also: my, his, her, their, your)
Example: Quality Logo Products is celebrating its 50th year in business!

It’s = contraction of “it is”
Example: It’s a boy!

Quick & dirty rule: If you can replace the word with “it is,” use an apostrophe. If you can replace the word with “her,” don’t use an apostrophe.


Now that you are a pro at this, so basically take the same rule and apply it to this set.

your = possessive pronoun (see also: my, his,her, their, its)
Example: Your zombie fighting skills are rusty.

you’re = contraction of “you are”
Example: You’re zombie food if you go out there.

Quick & dirty rule: If you can replace the word with “you are,” use an apostrophe. If you can replace the word with “her,” don’t use an apostrophe.


All right, it’s time for the lightning round. You’ve got the same rules as above, but now we have an extra homophone, which is a word that has the same sound but a different meaning from another word. This might be all the way up to a fifth grade level, so brace yourselves.

their = possessive pronoun (see also: my, his, her, your, its)
Example: The LOLcats are plotting their revenge.

they’re = contraction of “they are”
Example: They’re using their cute little noses to hide evil intentions.

there = adverb meaning “that location”
Example: I need to go over there to pick up some spray bottles and catnip.

Quick & dirty rule: If you can replace the word with “they are,” use an apostrophe. If you can replace the word with “her,” use “their.” If you can replace the word with “here,” use “there.”

possessives vs. plurals

Get out your pocket protectors, nerds, because if you’ve read this far, you’re really asking for it.

Plural: More than one (noun) are doing something.
Example: The Smiths lost their cat.

Plural possessive: More than one (noun) own something.
Example: The Smiths’ cat disappeared right after the zombie uprising started.

Plural of words that end in “s” (or z, ch, sh, x): More than one (noun) are doing something.
Example: The Joneses are picking whiskers out from between their rotting teeth.

Quick & dirty rule: If there’s ownership involved, use an apostrophe and “s.” If there’s already an “s” at the end, use “es.” If a plural noun owns something, just add an apostrophe.

Quick review: Identify the correct sentences.

A. The vampire had its ass kicked by Blade.
B. The vampire had it’s ass kicked by Blade.

A. Did you tell him that your buying a custom water bottle?
B. Did you tell him that you’re buying a custom water bottle?

A. I can’t stomach their stupid fruitcake.
B. I can’t stomach they’re stupid fruitcake.
C. I can’t stomach there stupid fruitcake.

A. The McClanes holidays were ruined by the Grubers.
B. The McClanes’ holidays were ruined by the Grubers.
C. The McClanes’s holidays were ruined by the Grubers.

1) A, 2) B, 3) A, 4) B

So, how’d you do? Are there any other spelling, punctuation, or grammar rules that frustrate you? At QLP, our customer service representatives do the best they can to make sure errors like these don’t happen, but the customer ultimately has final approval.

Feel free to bookmark this page, and come back to visit whenever you want.

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!

Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.


  1. QLP Jill

    Great post, Jana! It’s rather unfortunate that people are still clueless about this – especially in marketing. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen apostrophe abuse or the wrong form of “your/you’re” in advertisements, then I’d have a shit ton of nickels! 😉

  2. Barb Miller

    It’s the possesive and plural that really gets my goat. “Employee’s Only” instead of “Employees Only” on a break room door. That sort of thing makes me CRAZY!!!

  3. QLP Jill

    Yes, that’s annoying. I don’t know what possesses people to make things plural with apostrophes…I’ve noticed that it’s very common in terms like “CDs” or “DVDs”. It is so normal to see “CD’s” and DVD’s” instead. When I see that, I want to get out my red Sharpie and start circling!

  4. Jacob Black

    I enjoyed reading this article! Hilarious!

  5. Anne

    “A apostrophe does two basic things”

    Not to nit-pick, but this was glaring to me.

    • Jill Tooley

      This has been fixed! Good catch. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Anne! 🙂

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