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:
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
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.
Although "use smart quotes" was on in the slide app, the quotation marks remained the same after I changed the font and size.
It's easy work to retype them if you do not have too many slides (otherwise use "find and replace").
Different ways to use quotation marks.