Mark Nicholson Copywriting / Proofreading tips

Free Apostrophe Surgery


A fine example of a well-placed apostrophe.

Are you having trouble with an apostrophe? I can implant, reposition or extract it for you.

This free service from Mark Nicholson Copywriting includes clear advice on why the procedure chosen is necessary.

Please put your questions in the comments box below or, if it’s a particularly embarrassing apostrophe problem, email me at for a private consultation.

Self help

Most apostrophe issues can be dealt with at home or at work, provided you follow some simple rules. I hope the following will help.

My own experience with apostrophes began at the age of eight, when my class teacher wrote the following on the blackboard to explain how they work:

  • The book of John
  • John’s book

If John had owned a book (or been closely associated with a book) in the days before apostrophes, describing that relationship would have been quite a long-winded affair. You would have had to call it ‘the book of John’.

If you are talking about something that belongs to, or ‘pertains to’, more than one person or thing, the apostrophe is placed differently. A boys’ book is one belonging to, or perhaps one that is written for, boys (plural).

Often we use an apostrophe without specifically stating what is ‘owned’. If I said I was going to John’s, you would immediately understand that I was going to John’s house. In the old days, if I said I was going to Woolworth’s you would have understood that I was going to a shop owned by the Woolworth family.

Sadly, shops and other businesses are increasingly dropping the apostrophe and making their names both nonsensical and grammatically incorrect.

The presence and position of an apostrophe actually makes a big difference to the meaning of what is written. Some examples follow.

  • John went to the dentist’s (meaning that John went to the premises of a particular dentist).
  • John went to the dentists’ (meaning that John went to a surgery used by several dentists).
  • John went to the dentists (meaning that John had an encounter with some dentists, but not specifying whether that encounter took place at the dentists’ practice).

As well as using apostrophes where they are needed, it’s important to avoid using them where they don’t belong. To help illustrate the point, my secondary school teachers were able to point to a bakery across the road which erroneously advertised pie’s and pastie’s.

Apostrophes can also be used in place of missing letters (e.g. cannot can be shortened to can’t), but those don’t seem to cause as much trouble as possessive apostrophes.

Free Apostrophe Surgery

You can use the comments box below to outline your particular apostrophe problem. I am also available at For continuing help and advice, you may wish to follow this blog via email (see bottom right to sign up for notifications).


Contact: Mark Nicholson Copywriting



4 thoughts on “Free Apostrophe Surgery

    • Thanks Dawn. I agree, the apostrophe isn’t a trivial issue. It actually affects the meaning and understanding of words, so without it we simply can’t communicate as clearly.

      I’d like to have a look at your blog but I can’t seem to find it. Can you give me its address?

  1. A local hostelry put a flyer, with their latest menu, through my letterbox.

    At the top was the entreaty:

    “Come on Saturday Nights and Enjoy our Chef’s Roger
    and Julian’s Surprises.”

    I wish I’d kept it.

    • Thanks Robin. They really got into a tangle by trying to use the possessive and at the same time include the chefs’ names. “Enjoy our chefs’ surprises” would have been nice and simple. To include the chefs’ names, I would have gone for something like “enjoy surprises from our chefs, Roger and Julian”.

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