Errant apostrophe s’s can infiltrate anything—even game shows. In fact, a recent episode of Wheel of Fortune featured the questionable phrase “Someone’s knocking at the door.”1
While the phrase obviously means that someone is knocking at the door, this apostrophe s actually makes the pronoun someone possessive, as in “Someone’s car is blocking the driveway” or “I just found someone’s wallet.”
As a general rule, the apostrophe s makes nouns and indefinite pronouns (including someone, anyone, and everyone) possessive. It can only be used to create contractions and plurals in specific circumstances:
1. The apostrophe s can create contractions with pronouns that have a possessive form (i.e., he/his, she/her/hers, it/its, and who/whose).
He’s (he is) bringing cheese curds to the party.
She’s (she has) come down with a cold.
The soup is savory—and it’s (it is) spicy!
Who’s (who is) making hot chocolate?
2. The apostrophe s can create contractions with a short list of adverbs, relative pronouns, interrogative pronouns, and demonstrative pronouns (e.g., that, there, where, here, what, how), as well as the verb let.
That’s (that is) the ticket!
There’s (there has) been a data breach.
How’s (how is) the weather where you are?
Where’s (where is) the television remote?
What’s (what is) the rush?
Let’s (let us) go to Trader Joe’s.
3. The apostrophe s can make lowercase letters plural.2 (Please see the first sentence of this blog post.)
We put x’s on the calendar as we count down the days to Christmas.
Why are there so many s’s in Mississippi?
4. The apostrophe s can make uppercase letters plural.3
Joey got five A’s on his report card.
The Oakland A’s won the World Series in 1989.
So, the next time you see a correct—or incorrect—apostrophe s on Wheel of Fortune, jump up from your couch and exclaim, “Pat, I’d like to solve the puzzle!”
Further Reading: Five Tips for Using Contractions in Business Writing
1. “Wheel of Fortune Solutions for Thursday, October 30, 2014,” Wheel of Fortune Solutions, accessed November 3, 2014.
2. The Associated Press Stylebook 2020–2022 (New York: Associated Press, 2020), 335–36; The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017) 7.15.
3. Please note that The Associated Press Stylebook recommends using an apostrophe s to make uppercase and lowercase letters plural; however, The Chicago Manual of Style only recommends using an apostrophe s with lowercase letters.