From the Archives: The Book Doctor Weighs In On Apostrophes

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: October 26, 2010 ]

The Book Doctor sets it straight on apostrophe usage for writing on the road to publishing…

Q: When it comes to plurals for last names, which is correct? Hueys or Huey’s or Hueys’? The Robersons or Roberson’s or Robersons’? Microsoft Word always flags these as misspelled. I can never tell the difference.

A: Microsoft Word probably flags them because the words themselves, Hueys and Robersons, are not in the dictionary, plus the computer program cannot decipher whether the name is plural or possessive.

If it is strictly plural, it takes no apostrophe. Examples:
We ate dinner with Joe Huey and the rest of the Hueys.
Mike Roberson said all the Robersons are visiting next week.

If it is plural possessive, it needs an apostrophe. Examples:
We ate dinner at the Hueys’ house.
The Robersons’ dog is visiting, too.

Note that if the name ends in an s, the plural possessive for book style is to add an apostrophe and an s. Examples:
The Jones’s house is painted white.
I agree with all of the Samuels’s suggestions.

– by Bobbie Christmas

quotation marks apostropheApostrophes can be hard work. These busy little signifiers of ownership have a lot to do with how we interpret the texts we read, and it can be disastrous to get it wrong. Consider the following example:


All you have to do in order to get a good feel for how very, very wrong apostrophes can go is to hop on Google and search for “apostrophe errors”–the internet is rife with records of our many mistakes, including signs, newspaper headlines, and more. And of course, there’s always the worst kind of error–the kind which you tattoo on your body for permanent enjoyment/frustration:

tattoo apostrophe mistake

Here, as you can see, this person has made a simple plural into a possessive, which doesn’t suit the grammar of the sentence … at all. So, first of all, have someone else who’s familiar with the laws of apostrophe use look over your writing before you publish … and secondly, have that person read your tattoo design before you commit!

There are two great resources I’d point you to if you’re looking to re-familiarize yourself with apostrophe usage. The first comes from and includes a really handy infographic which presents the information beautifully and succinctly:


You can find the other parts of this infographic (this is just part one!) at the link.

Another great resources is this ThoughtCo article on the subject. Again, the material is delivered in a wonderfully streamlined fashion, this time optimized for those of us who like bullet points or who need to view our apostrophe reminders on a mobile-friendly screen. (Infographics are great! But mostly at higher resolution and on larger screens.)

Long story short:

  • check your apostrophes;
  • have someone else check your apostrophes;
  • don’t tattoo anything on yourself without consulting your editor;
  • and …


That’s it! That’s all you need to remember about apostrophes in 2017!

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

Last Name Grammar Tips for Self Published Writers

I usually write about general topics related to editing rather than offering advice on specific on grammar issues. I highly recommend all self-published writers invest in hiring a professional editor to assist them with their books, but I also think that writers should be well-educated on writing, spelling, and grammar. After all, your editor will greatly appreciate a manuscript that is already professionally written.

One of the most common mistakes I see is the misuse of the plural and possessive “s” with last names. This is because almost every mailbox you see or Christmas card you receive is incorrect. Here are some examples on how to properly use the plural and possessive “s” with last names.

If it is strictly plural, do not use an apostrophe.

Ex. We ate dinner with Craig Wilson and the rest of the Wilsons.

Ex. I went shopping with Jill Jones to buy presents for the rest of the Joneses.

Ex. Paul English said all of the Englishes love Christmas.

If it is plural and possessive, it needs an apostrophe.

Ex. We ate at the Wilsons’ house.

Ex. We rode in the Englishes’ car.

If the name ends in an s, the plural possessive for book style is to add an apostrophe and an s.

Ex. The Jones’s house is painted white.

To show possession with singular names, simply add an apostrophe and an s.

Ex. Mike Wilson’s dad is a legend.

I’d love to know, what grammar issue is the most confusing to you? Please comment below.

ABOUT WENDY STETINA: Wendy Stetina is a sales and marketing professional with over 30 years experience in the printing and publishing industry. Wendy works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; and together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction, or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Wendy Stetina can put you on the right path.

Self-publishing Advice Guest Post

Thank you Ms. Christmas, Book Doctor

Q: The following question arrived by e-mail and is intentionally left unedited:

whats your opinion about someone analyze all things around him , usually searching for trunth , scientific facts , research any case confront , has high imagination , alawys contemplate , endure social & world problems as his was the responsible for solving it , has photographic memory , live his own live as serial episode , all his wishes & principles hope to be done , moreover usually try to prove his view for hisself & others , has the ability to write coversation between two persons for more than one hundred pages , daydreaming all the time, imagine seeing this by making stories in his mind

my question all people around me touch that suggest me that I may me a good writer , or story writer

but I need your opinion as you an experts , are the above behaviours can qualify me or intutive behaviours for a writer or artist ?

A: The analytical behaviors outlined in your note indicate an excellent start on the path to visual or literary arts, but it takes much more than intuition or inclinations to become a writer.

A person with good balance but no practice cannot hop on a bike and win a marathon. First that person must practice many hours, days, months, and years, to learn the skills and nuances of mounting the bike, pedaling, steering, cornering, braking, and dismounting. The person must also build stamina, muscle, and skills, before being able to perform at peak level.

The same principle holds true for the arts. People who want to become writers must hone their skills in grammar, punctuation, syntax, and spelling. They must learn about writing clear, compelling copy and believable dialogue; building characters; creating and sustaining a plot; maintaining tension and conflict; and much more.

I’m concerned about the low level of clarity, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and even typing in the note I received, so I have serious concerns that the person who wrote that note has not yet developed the basic skills necessary to become a good writer. If you want to become a writer to take advantage of your great analytical skills, the next step is to acquire and hone the skills you will need as a writer. Seek classes in grammar, punctuation, typing, and creative writing. Learn to develop an eagle eye for errors. Join writing groups, read books on writing, write, and get feedback on your writing. Practice, practice, practice, and you will see progress toward your goal.

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Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at

Self-publishing Manuscript Submission Tip

When I was in college, several of my less disciplined associates found a sly tactic in composing essays and papers in the Courier font face. Courier allowed them to reach the assignment’s minimum page count with significantly less actual characters or words than with a font like Times New Roman.

The reason being that Courier is a monospaced font, which gives the visual impression similar to what we were used to seeing in copy created on a typewriter, which was the result of mechanical limitations. Monospaced copy simply means that each character requires the same amount of horizontal space on a page. A period the same space as a W.

This paragraph is in Courier, a monospaced font.
Notice how all the characters take up the same
amount of space and line up in columns.

The unfortunate and universal result of the typewriter and monospaced fonts is the nasty habit of placing two spaces between sentences. Not only a visual eyesore, the practice is wrong according to our experts at the APA, MLA, and Chicago Manual of Style.

With the modern word processor and standard publishing typefaces, your manuscript should have only one space between a punctuation mark and its subsequent character. This one-space rule applies to colons, semi-colons, question marks, quotation marks, exclamation points and all other punctuation.

While potentially a pain, the time spent revising to this standard is worth your effort. Be sure to also check for hard returns before submitting to your self-publishing option for review.

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Have fun and keep writing.

Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor about Quotation Marks

Grammar advice for the self-publishing author:

Q: I am editing an article for a periodical and cannot find anything in my grammar books or copyeditor’s guide that addresses this issue. There is a sentence in quotation marks that lists within it the names of several songs. I am confused as to whether to use single quotation marks around the names of the songs or to use double quotes as you would usually do with a song.

A: Single quotation marks are used to indicate quotation marks inside of double quotation marks. Because the sentence is in quotation marks, any items within it that would have quotation marks around them would have single quotation marks.

Examples: “John, did you say ‘Thank you’ to your teacher?” Mary said, “I loved the Tommy Edwards song called ‘It’s all in the Game.’

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Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at

Self-publishing Advice and the Book Doctor

The Book Doctor expounds on usage: “which” verses “that”

Q: In a former column, someone asked for the rule about when to use “which” and when to use “that.” You answered like this:

“I could give you am involved and boring rule, but one quick-and-easy way to remember when to use ‘which’ and when to use ‘that’ is this: If the word can be eliminated, but the following information cannot, you probably mean ‘that.’ If any word can be eliminated, eliminate it and write tight. (Example: I told Jan that I liked fish. Better: I told Jan I liked fish.) On the other hand, if you have the urge to put a comma in front of it, you probably mean ‘which’ (Example: The fish, which had been caught three days earlier, had a distinct odor.)

This isn’t a rule on when to use “that,” it’s a rule that eliminates the use of “that” from all writing!

A: Thank you for your reply, but I am tempted to say: “That is simply not true!” Look at these examples:

The shoe found in that corner was the clue to the murder.
The fact that she was always late did not mean she did not care.

I stand by my original statement that (!) words that (!) are unnecessary should be deleted. Writers who keep their writing pithy eliminate unnecessary words and employ powerful ones.

Keep me on my toes, though. I like it.

Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at

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Self-publishing Advice: Word Usage

Editorial Q&A from an established Self-publishing consulting source:

Q: I would like to know of a book or Web site that shows complete sentences in which a specified word is used. I have a good vocabulary and know how to use a thesaurus, but I’m fearful when it comes to promoting a word from my cognitive vocabulary to my active vocabulary; i.e., actually using a word I know in a sentence I write. (For example, I stepped out on a limb to use the word “cognitive.”)

A: First, never use a word in your writing that you wouldn’t use in casual conversation, and you’ll never go wrong.

Next, if you never stretch your own vocabulary, you won’t grow, so after the first caution, I’ll add my favorite source: American Heritage Dictionary. It often, but not always, uses words in a sentence.

A third warning: When you look something up in a thesaurus, be cautious, because each word has its own connotation, and choosing a word from a list does not ensure that the exact meaning you intend will be relayed to the reader. One of my clients for whom English was not a native language, for example, wanted to impart excitement, so after referring to a thesaurus, he wrote, “Oh, no!” he ejaculated. Yes, the sentence and word use are both technically correct, but Americans more often use ejaculate to mean something other than exclaim, so the word choice was less than ideal. It did give this editor a chuckle, however.

Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at

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