Apostrophes: do they matter?

It's a little thing, but a misplaced apostrophe or a crop of typos in your copy can seriously erode your brand. Here are some essential tips for sorting the possessives from the contractions...

 Apostrophes: do they matter?

I’ve been to several marketing events recently – conferences and trade shows where marketers sit on stands, present case studies and generally try and market themselves. Among the interesting discoveries – a new focus on content marketing in b2b, for instance – I was struck by a new low in spelling standards and, in particular, apostrophe use.

One presentation’s slides included both the phrase “lot’s of opportunities” and the word “catagories”. The speaker also pronounced “hyperbole” as “hyper-bowl”.

Another presentation focused on “tomorrows internet” (written in huge block capitals). And a business card pressed into my hand read: “Curious on engaging new business’ leads?”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m actually quite relaxed about typos. Quality control is much harder than non-editorial people realise, and in the unending battle to keep up standards it’s only the things you miss that people ever notice. But when companies are trying to sell their services and their expertise, you’d think they’d take the trouble to give the best possible first impression.

“If you can’t even spell...”
Even in the age of tweets and text-speak and instant messaging, people still care about these things.

Whenever I run a web content workshop and the subject of quality control comes up, attendees are adamant. Howlers like the ones above dilute your brand, lower trust, and remove people’s confidence in your ability to do what you say you do. As one attendee said of an error on a holiday site (“book you next trip”): “If they can’t spell, how are they going to get the plane off the ground?”

Apostrophes: a quick recap

For those who are offended by such inaccuracies, no howler howls louder than an inability to get apostrophes right. So here’s a quick recap:

  • 1 phone, 1 sister: my sister’s phone
  • 1 phone, 2 sisters: my sisters’ phone
  • 2 phones, 1 sister: my sister’s phones
  • 2 phones, 2 sisters: my sisters’ phones
  • If your sister is called Glynnis, you can say Glynnis’ phone or (less common): Glynnis’s phone
  • “It’s” is never possessive – it’s short for “it is”. So if you want to refer to your rubbish phone and your phone’s rubbish memory, you’d write:
  • I hate this phone – its memory is rubbish. Actually, it’s a terrible phone full stop.