The apostrophe, which looks devilishly like a single quotation mark, only has two uses in the English language. Neither of them is to make something, anything, plural [before sending the hate mail, read on]. Use the apostrophe to denote possession (but not in some pronouns) and to indicate where letters are missing from words, either as contractions or for colloquial or poetic usage.

Do not EVER use an apostrophe because something looks like it needs it. Punctuation has rules, although usage may vary depending on whether one is writing in British English or American English (again, historical isolation is important in understanding language). As for Australian English, pronounced "Strine," you'll have to ask someone from the Emerald City.

If you find yourself compelled to write something about a decade, say 1960 to 1969, the correct way to punctuate is to make 1960 plural, as in "1960s." No apostrophe. If, for some reason, the year 1960 needs to show possession, then it is correctly punctuated as 1960's. If the whole decade needs possession, then use 1960s'; rarely do years or decades possess something, however.

Another use of the apostrophe is to indicate missing letters in a word. Examples abound but should rarely end up in a piece of formal writing, a research paper for example. One badly misused exception is the contraction "it's." In formal writing, use the full spelling: "it is." When showing possession by the third person singular pronoun, never use an apostrophe. Yes, some pronouns are possessive without an apostrophe, namely: his, hers, yours, ours, theirs and its. To review, "it's" is a contraction of "it is," and "its" is a possessive pronoun.

Whether you are making a contraction of the word "cannot," making sense of the phrase "will of the wisp" (will o' the wisp), using the nautical term "forecastle" poetically (fo'c'sle or fo'c's'le), or even bringing down the house with your Rock 'n' Roll, it is in these examples where your apostrophe earns its keep.

Using an apostrophe to make something possessive when it is plural can be tricky. Words like "children," "women," and "men" are already plural. If you put an "s" at the end of one of these, you need an apostrophe to show possession. Now, giving possession to someone like Mr. Jones or Xerxes is difficult. This is where the writer needs to turn to his or her style manual. The Chicago Manual instructs that a hat belonging to Mr. Jones would be "Jones's hat." However, before the recent release of the 16th edition of that fine book, the Chicago style specified that words that end in an "eez" sound, like Xerxes or Euripides, would only get the apostrophe and not the added "s." Euripides' Medea would still be tragic, even it were Euripides's Medea. Grammar rules change, and people disagree about them.

Bilkent News uses the Associated Press Stylebook, which just makes things weirder. Possessive apostrophe use in AP style varies whether the noun is inanimate, is the same form in singular and plural (moose, deer), is a descriptive phrase, or is a "quasi possessive" (44th ed., 221), seemingly ad infinitum.

Even though this blog (it does end up on a website, eventually) seems to bother a lot of people, there is one thing on which we can all agree about English: never use an apostrophe to make something plural. Just don't, well, unless you're using Webster's New World College Dictionary or are talking about bringing home some A's on your English homework.