Listen up, people, because I'm going to give you a lesson. Once. Apostrophes are used for the following major purposes: (1) To indicate one or more letters have been omitted, as in a contraction: don't (the "o" is missing); and (2) To indicate possession, as in Linda's rant on apostrophes.
There are other reasons to use apostrophes, but they are all related to the preceding. So, how do I see apostrophes being misused? Let me count the ways:
- I heard that song in the 1970's. What's the omitted letter? Where is the possession? It should be the 1970s.
- The slate outside your front door says The Faulkner's. If you want the sign to indicate that the house belongs to the Faulkners (i.e., possession), I guess this is okay. But if you want the sign to indicate that two or more people named Faulkner live in the house, the slate should say The Faulkners - as in the plural of a singular Faulkner. (Each of us is exceptionally singular, by the way.)
- Merry Christmas from the Smith's: Bert, Bertha, Bertie, and Bertina. NO APOSTROPHE! The Smiths is the plural of a singular Smith. 4 Smiths = plural; 1 Smith = singular. The Christmas message isn't about possession.