Design lessons from the art of washoku
In Defense of Helvetica

Apostrophes and quotation marks

Quote_2 Sometimes a mistake occurs so regularly that many people stop to even notice. One such error is the backward apostrophe. This is admittedly a small thing, but it's one of those little things we need to get right, like remembering not to put two spaces after a period (unless using a monospaced typeface). Believe it or not, there is an entire website dedicated to showcasing apostrophe abuse on a near daily basis. Most of the examples featured on the website show signs and other displays with words containing an apostrophe where an apostrophe is not needed, but there are many examples of the apostrophe in the right place but used backwards. First, you need to put the apostrophe in the right place. One of the most common mistakes is something like this:

CD's came out in the 80's.
This should read
CDs came out in the ’80s.

I took this photo below of a sign in Nagoya last year. Very creative apostrophe abuse. No apostrophe is needed in this case, but if you're going to use it, you might as well put it on the wrong side of the year.


Can you find the apostrophe abuse here on this page?

The "dumb" apostrophe

Wwdc_apostrophe_3 Most people know where an apostrophe goes, but they often unknowingly put in a "dumb apostrophe" (a vertical stroke rather than the proper mark designed for the typeface) when they type, for example, 2009 as ‘09. Your software may have thought you were beginning a quotation and thus gave you the open single quotation mark. To get a proper apostrophe you may have to use a keyboard command. On the Mac it's Option + Shift + ] to get the single closed quotation mark (apostrophe). Use Alt + 0146 on the PC. As you can see from the photo right, sometimes the backward apostrophe gets by the best of them.


Use proper quotation marks
Using "dumb quotes" in place of proper typographers' marks or "smart quotes" is something that irks many designers. In most software apps all you have to do is go to the preferences and turn on the "use smart quotes" feature. But this does not guarantee you will not see dumb quotes pop up in your work. For example, if you copy and paste a quotation from a website or an email including the quotation marks, it's very likely that dumb quotes will appear in your text (if they appeared that way on the website) even after you change your font in your application. This is what happened with the quote in the slide below which I copied from my email client.

Quote slides.005
Although "use smart quotes" was on in the slide app, the quotation marks remained the same after I changed the font and size.

Quote slides.006
It's easy work to retype them if you do not have too many slides (otherwise use "find and replace").

Quote slides8.008  Quote slides.009
Different ways to use quotation marks.



:) When iPhone 3GS was to launch in Sweden Apple had said it would be availible in ´09 July. One of the phone companies allowed to sell iPhone took this for the 9th of July and announced that they would sell the phone then. However Apple meant in July of 2009 and the actual launch date was the 31st. The phone company had to change their statement and move back their launch.

Jef Martens

Thank you Garr, this is a really nice post. Keep up the good work in making things explicit on communicating effectively.


Don't forget about the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks! -

Michael Sporer

The proper use of punctuation was one of the few good things I received in Catholic school. It was drilled into us. The use of 2 spaces past a period is something I do instinctively, but some disagree with that rule.


I always do an apostrophe usage class for my students but it doesn't seem to get through to them. *sigh*

On the matter of smart quotes : they are great, *except* when you are trying to type in slides that contain program fragments and then the feature is a complete nightmare....


Just a quick note: a straight apostrophe mark is actually a "prime". They are mathematical and scientific in use. I use them frequently in chemical formulas.

The use of a double space after a period is a huge pet peeve for me. When I receive text this way, I have to remove all of the extra spaces before (or after, depending on mood) being able to drop the text into a Quark, InDesign or Illustrator document. Grrrr!


In a post about the correct use of apostrophes, you appear to have let slip quite a few “it's” instead of “it’s” and ‘"smart quotes"’ instead of ‘“smart quotes”’. Was that intended to be ironic?

Jim Dickeson

About that t-shirt, maybe it’s saying “screwed to the power of 6”. Or was that the previous U.S. Presidential Administration?

My apostrophe peeve sticking one into something that is actually plural, not possessive:

The race to put a man on the moon was during the 1960s.

The race was won with 1969's Apollo 11 moon landing.

As for spacing at the end of a sentence, I was always taught (by mother, teachers) to put two spaces between sentences. I continue that practice because it makes the printed verbiage more or less match the spoken - when one speaks, there is a little more of a pause between sentences than between words of a sentence (unless one intentionally uses a pregnant pause for effect). And I think the spacing controversy actually precedes typewriters, as it was faced by typesetters hundreds of years earlier. Now it irks me that web browsers are programmed to ignore that second space, but I guess early html coders never did well in English class.

And, Garr, I find your stated use of double-spacing for monospaced typefaces peculiar. Spaces are already wider in monospace than in proportionate spaced typefaces. So, if anything, double-spacing would be less necessary with monospaced typefaces.

OK, now that I've criticized you, it's time to balance things a bit. Your book, Presentation Zen, is my bible.

Jamie Pruden

Wow, Garr... this apostrophe thing and the double-space thing are two of my biggest pet peeves as almost *everyone* does it, then tries to correct you for doing it incorrectly. Ugh.

Ingeborg Hawighorst

Hi Garr,

you can't believe how often my hair stands straight up when I stroll through town or open a newspaper here in New Zealand. I'm posting typos I find in NZ advertising and signage on my Posterous blog (Check out more of my pictures of the Fuji look-alike mountain, while you're at it.)

It's amazing what gets overlooked by proofreaders, (or maybe they don't get involved?).


I confess to inappropriate reference to the 70's and 80's (sorry, 70s and 80s). Old habits can be hard to break.

Talking of old habits, the new edition of the APA Publication Manual has reintroduced the use of two spaces after a period. I don't have a copy of the manual (yet), so I don't know their rationale or the specifics of how it is presented. I do know that many people (myself included) see it as a retrograde step. I'm hoping that, in the full text, they will explain that it is optional or for monospaced typefaces.

@Jim Dickson: it doesn't matter whether a monospace space is wider or narrower than a proportional one, it is the relationship of that space to the surrounding text that matters. Hence Garr was correct in his summary of appropriate use of spaces (2 for monospace typefaces, 1 for proportional ones).


There are some style guides that endorse the use of "80's". It's one of my pet peeves.


in the age of abbreviated tweets, many people don't care that much any more and invent their own 'personal style.' Including me, and tnk God. I never learned it anyway and have better things to do with my valuable time than make sure my " " 's are in the right place (with much respect to those who care as much as I don't)


I actually find two spaces more distracting in a monospace typeface than in a proportional. When my eyes are tired, they focus on white space, and the "rivers" of white space left by period-space-space start forming pictures. I find I notice it more in monospace because the space is just so darn big. Seriously, isn't the space for the period plus a single space enough?

@Tim: I'm disappointed by the APA's decision as well. The web site says the change was "...recommended for ease of reading comprehension." I'll also be interested in seeing what the actual book says.


Maybe a little more history on the double-space-after-periods issue would be helpful. I, too, learned to double-space after periods, as I just did at the end of that sentence. I think there should be more space between sentences than between words, and I find it frustrating when I'm editing a document drafted by someone else who only single-spaced. Copying text from a Web page is equally frustrating for me. I have to go in an add an extra space after each sentence.

What's the rationale for only single-spacing? And when did that become the "norm"?

(And maybe someone can let me know if I should have put that last double-quote on the outside of my question mark...)

Steve Bowman

I learned a long time ago, in a good school:

1) Use apostrophes when showing the plural of numbers of abbreviations: CD's, '60's. Somebody recently told me that plurals without the apostrophe is "European style."

2) Double space after a period. I'm a writer/editor, and one of the first things I do in other people's copy is to add the double spaces. Drives me crazy. I've had big arguments with a co-worker my same age about the issue. She takes them out, I put them in.

3) In answer to Derek immediately above: Always put the punctuation INSIDE the quote marks. Feels illogical, but looks best.


At the risk of stepping in it, as a longtime designer and typographer I encourage people to leave only one space after a period (this has long been the case in western typography, versus typing). But consistency is even more important, especially when combining material from different sources at the very last minute (as often happens in the consulting organizations I work with), so practicality sometimes trumps typographic rules.

Robert Bringhurst described this beautifully in his classic The Elements of Typographic Style (a must have for the typographically-obsessed):

“In the nineteenth century, which was a dark and inflationary age in typography, man compositors were encouraged to stuff extra space between sentences. Generations of twentieth-century typists were then taught to do the same, by hitting the spacebar twice after every period. Your typing as well as your typesetting will benefit from unlearning this quaint Victorian habit.”

(The Elements of Typographic Style; Hartley & Marks Publishers; 2nd edition; 2002)


Jeff-- you beat me to it. I have The Elements of Typographic Style 3.1. I was going to type the same passage! Funny, that.

• Plurals do not have apostrophes. It's dogs and cats not dog's and cat's (the latter is possessive). And it is not CD's and certainly not '70's. Remember the TV show called "That '70s Show"? (Note both the apostrophe in the title and the question mark outside the quotation mark. Usually punctuation is inside, but in the case of question marks, it whatever makes sense. In this case I am asking the question -- it is not in the title of the TV show).

• One space after a period. Always has been that way. If you prefer big gaps between sentences, that's fine for your own work. But if that work ever has to go out to the public to see, someone will have to do a "find and replace" to remove the extra space after periods.

• Again, punctuation is always inside (at least in "American style English"), but the question mark depends on the meaning of the question -- that is, who asked the question.

I know we have been told differently, but it's true: One space. Frankly, two spaces even in monospaced type seems unnecessary to me. You have a period, a bit of space, and a capital letter, all these things indicate a new sentence. The odd thing about this is that people get *very emotional* about it. I have had people yell at me as if they were at a healthcare rally in the USA -- how dare I try to take away their rights to use an extra space! I mean, it's really weird. I learned this "rule" in college 20 years ago. Once I learned why, it was pretty easy to change my old habit, especially when I went from the typewriter to the Mac. Then you notice old books and new books and mags, etc. -- all of them have type with only once space after punctuation.

Thanks all for your contributions!


20 years ago? I thought I learned 2-spaces over 30 years ago. Oops, I'm showing my age.

But if how many years ago has any bearing, I track down a bit of trivia over the weekend. It all predates even the typewriter, clear back to the 1400s (note no apostrophe for plural).

Although dear old Mr. Gutenberg didn't invent the printing press, he did invent movable type for it. All of his type was the same width (monospaced). His period type did not position the dot in the lateral center of the type, but over to the left where it would be closer to the last word of the sentence just ending. And he actually only put one blank space type between the period and the first letter of the next sentence.

The resulting space between Gutenberg's sentences actually appeared to be a little less than two spaces - the space itself, and most of the width of the period type preceding it - but certainly closer to two spaces than one space.

As the printing press further evolved with proportionate width type, the lowly period became very narrow, and things didn't look like they used to, leaving everyone wondering, "What would Gutenberg do?" (note the question mark inside the quote). So to make it look more like it used to, typesetters just started inserting the second space.

Now when typewriters were invented, we found ourselves back in a monospaced world for a while, but somehow the two-space habit lived on.

So there never was "THE RULE" on this issue. Rather, different groups of people, with differing ideas in their heads, wrote their own rules to support their beliefs (sort of like religion, but that's an explosive topic for another blog).

So, while MY beliefs tell me to use two spaces, I would have to agree with Jeff, that consistency and practicality trump all. And beyond that, do what you please and let’s get on to more important matters, like health care.

Andy Kirkwood

The one space vs. two spaces after a period issue is due to the transition from manual typewriters (those with ink and metal keys) to digital typesetting.

On a manual typewriter the double-space was required to create white space between sentences (as spacing was either created through the use of tabs or the space bar).

With digital typefaces each character has its own unique width (bearing). This width includes the leading or trailing white space required to create an even grey tone across the text.

The period/full stop character in a digital typeface includes the space that is required between sentences. This is the case for both variable-width and monospace fonts.

Taking into account how typefaces are created, the 'correct' usage for digital typesetting is: period-space-first letter of the next sentence.

Susan Benson

As one who has the two-spaces-after-a-period gene, I struggled to remember only to do one space. Imagine my joy and exultation when I read in the 6th edition of the APA manual that two spaces after a period is now the standard. I don't have the manual with me, but I believe the reference is 4.01 (I think the reference is around page 82.) Can life get any better!?!


Hello Garr,
I like your posts. You got a very nice talent.

it doesn't matter whether a monospace space is wider or narrower than a proportional one, it is the relationship of that space to the surrounding text that matters.

The comments to this entry are closed.