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How To Use Apostrophes Correctly

We've included some advice on apostrophes for 2 reasons:

  1. Their misuse is the most common grammatical mistake we find in CVs, resumes, job application forms and cover letters, even at senior applicant level.
    We reviewed some job websites earlier this year and found mistakes even on these, in amongst advice on spelling etc!
  2.  Poor grammar and spelling frustrates interviewers, especially when the job is a senior one. We question your attention to detail as well as your education.

But once you've mastered it, it's easy! We'll show you how.

When Do I Use Apostrophes?

They have two uses:

  1. To show OMISSION (a missing letter). Mistakes aren't common here.
  2. To show POSSESSION (ownership of something). Mistakes are common here.

1. Omission

Apostrophes show you that some letters have been taken out of a word to shorten it:

Do not becomes don't 
I will becomes I'll 
Could have becomes could've 
You are becomes you're

The ' goes where the letters have been removed.

Although some people will tell you not to shorten words when you're writing cover letters, we don't agree. Shortened words sound more warm and personal and are easier to read. Though there are still a few people who prefer formal language, this number is dwindling. Plain English is commonplace now.

2. Possession

Apostrophes show you that something belongs to something else. To show belonging, you add 's.

The dog's tail -- the tail belongs to the do
The car's lights -- the lights belong to the car
Tony's hair -- the hair belongs to Tony

Usually the ' goes before the s.

But if the owner already ends in an s, then the ' goes after the s that is already there. You can add 's in some cases but it's optional. To avoid confusion, just add ' after the s.

James' parents -- the parents belong to James.
Chris' money -- the money belongs to Chris.
The dogs' bowl -- the bowl belong to some dogs.
The boys' coats -- the coats belong to some boys.
The cars' wheels -- the wheels belong to some cars.

Watch out for plurals that don't end in s. Words like men and children don't end in s, but they are talking about lots of people. These words use 's to show possession. For example:

The men's hats -- says that the hats belong to the men.

The women's house -- says that the house belongs to the women.

Here's a BBC quiz if you'd like some practice before completing your job application form, CV, resume or cover letter.

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