Basic Rules of Grammar

The Apostrophe

Punctuation Marks

Part 5

The Apostrophe

What is the apostrophe punctuation mark? What is the apostrophe used for? Where should an apostrophe be placed in a word? What happens if I incorrectly punctuate a word with an apostrophe? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this workshop. (Please see punctuation chart in our introduction to punctuation workshop).

The apostrophe () is a punctuation mark used to identify a noun in the possessive case or indicate the omission of one or more letters from a word. The apostrophe has two main jobs in English: to mark contractions and to indicate possession.

The apostrophe is used in contractions

The most common use of apostrophes in English is for contractions, where a noun or pronoun and a verb combine. Remember that the apostrophe is often replacing a letter that has been dropped. It is placed where the missing letter(s) would be.

Examples

I am = I’m

do not = don’t

you are = you’re

she would = she’d

he would have = he would’ve

they had = they’d

let us = let’s

is not = isn’t

The contraction of let us is let’s; without the apostrophe, lets is a form of the verb let, as in “to allow or permit”.

If you are unsure where to insert the apostrophe when forming a contraction, just look the word up in dictionary or google the word.

How to Write Joint Possession

What do you do with the apostrophe when you’re talking about things that belong to more than one person? When one thing belongs to two or more people, make only the final name possessive:

Example

Incorrect

• Marks and Tina car is nice.

Correct

• Mark and Tina’s car is nice. (Mark and Tina both own the nice car.)

Incorrect

• Sylvester’s, Kennedy’s, and Elinor’s cousins are hilarious.

Correct

• Sylvester, Kennedy, and Elinor’s cousins are hilarious. (All three share the same cousins who are hilarious).

One of the most common mistakes made in everyday English is the mixing up of the possessive pronoun its with the contraction it’s (the shortened form of it is). The golden rule to remember is that we never use apostrophes with possessive pronouns.

Example

Incorrect

• The guitar had a pink strap hanging from it’s side.

Remember it + the apostrophe +s = it’s
It’s means it is or it has.

Correct

• The guitar had a pink strap hanging from its side.

Remember it’s = a contraction that means it is or it has. The use of the apostrophe placed between the (t) and the (s) makes it a contraction and not a possessive pronoun.

• it’s = is the same type of contraction as where’s or there’s, and its is a possessive just like my or your. The apostrophe signals that something has been removed (letters).

where’s = contracton for where is or where has.

there’s = contraction for there is or there has.

Its = belonging to or connected with the thing or animal mentioned; the possessive form of it, used before a noun. It is a possessive pronoun like his.

Example

• The dog wagged its tail.

• The new iPhone has its flaws, but it is a good quality cell phone.

• I can see its tail.

Independent Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns already show possession so no apostrophe is needed. Independent possessive pronouns
are not immediately followed by a noun. They are independent because they don’t need a noun after them.

Mine, ours, yours, his, hers and theirs are the independent possessive pronouns.

Example

• The bicycle in the garage is mine.

• If the laptop computer isn’t yours, it must belong to someone else.

• This hat is mine.

• The green car on the left is ours.

Incorrect

• The bicycle in the garage is “mine’s.”

Correct

• The bicycle in the garage is “mine.”

You will need to add an apostrophe +s to form the possessive of some indefinite pronouns.

Remember, an indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that refers to an unspecified or unidentified person or thing.

Example

• Anybody’s guess

• Somebody’s wallet

An independent possessive pronoun will normally come at the end of the sentence or clause.

While it should not be followed by a noun, it does need additional information before it appears to show the reader what the possessive pronoun is indicating ownership of  (bicycle, laptop computer, hat etc.). For example, if we simply say it is mine, we won’t know what it is. We will only know whose it is. For us to know what it is, we need information before the possessive pronoun appears.

Example

• It is mine. = possessive pronoun

• The blue dress hanging in the closet is mine.

Dependent Possessive Pronouns

My, your, his, her, its, our, your, their, are the dependent possessive pronouns. They are used to indicate ownership or a relationship.

Example

• Welcome to our home.

• This is my car.

• The elephant injured its trunk.

The rule of dependent possessive pronouns is that they are used before a noun. This is because they are dependent on the noun that comes after them.

Example

• our = possessive pronoun

• home = noun

Another example

• its = possessive pronoun

•  trunk = noun

Don’t Use an Apostrophe to Form a Plural

As a general rule, use only an -s (or an -es) without an apostrophe to form the plurals of regular nouns, dates, acronyms, and family names.

Example

Nouns

• Shopping Malls were extremely popular in the 1980s.

• Shopping Malls = noun plural

Dates

Don’t add an apostrophe “s” to the end of the whole number. Instead, for abbreviated dates, put the apostrophe in the front. Use an apostrophe to show omitted numbers.

Example

1990’s

Incorrect

• 1990’s

Correct

• 1990s

Additional correct examples of using the apostrophe with dates.

• The late ’70s

• The class of ’96

• I won in ’06

Acronyms

Because acronyms are capitalized, placing a lower-case ‘s’ after the acronym is plain and clear enough to make it plural. Adding an apostrophe only confuses the reader and goes against the rules for using the apostrophe.

Examples

Correct

• There are many ATMs in this city.

• Used CDs for sale.

Incorrect

• There are many ATM’s in this city.
(could get confused with possessive form or contraction).

• Used CD’s for sale.

Names

Things can get really confusing with the possessive plurals of proper names ending in s, such as Williams and Jones.

If you’re attending the Smith family cookout you’re attending the Smiths’ family cookout (Smith + s + apostrophe). But what if it’s the Williams family?

If someone’s name ends in s, we must add -es for the plural. The plural of Williams is Williamses. The members of the Williams family are the Williamses.

To show possession, add an apostrophe.

Example

Incorrect

• The Williams’ cat is snow white.

Correct

• The Williamses’ cat is snow white (Williams + es + apostrophe).

Another example

The Jones house.

Incorrect

• The Jones’ house.

Correct

• The Joneses’ house.

In serious writing, this rule must be followed no matter how strange or awkward the results.

The possessive of a plural noun is formed by adding only an apostrophe when the noun ends in s, and by adding both an apostrophe and s when it ends in a letter other than (s). Generally, if the noun is singular, the apostrophe will go before the (s) but if the noun happens to be plural, the apostrophe will go after the (s).

Example

• The boys’ parents

• The Browns’ new car.

Irregular Plural Possessives

The children’s books are brand new.

The word children is already plural. You cannot add “s” to the word itself to make it plural. So when you want to show possession, you put the apostrophe first, then the (s).

Example

• The children’s books are brand new.

With nouns ending in the letter (y), do not show possession by changing the y to ies.

The companys policy

Correct

• The company’s policy

Incorrect

• The companies policy

To show possession when a noun ending in y becomes plural, change it to (ies’). Do not use (y’s).

Correct

• The ten companies’ policies are all the same.

Incorrect

• The ten company’s policies are all the same.

Another example

The family’s businesses are making huge profits.

Correct

• The families’ businesses are making huge profits.

Incorrect

• The family’s businesses are making huge profits.

family’s is wrong because the apostrophe use this way shows possession for only one family. 

families + the apostrophe, shows that there are multiple families who own businesses, that are making huge profits.

Remember, the apostrophe has two main jobs in English: to mark contractions and to indicate possession.

This concludes the workshop on the apostrophe. Please go back and re-read the information contained in this workshop, before completing the apostrophe worksheet.

After you have re-read the information in this workshop, test your knowledge on the apostrophe punctuation mark. Please complete the worksheet titled, Apostrophe Worksheet. You’ll find it on our website. Just click on the menu section at the top, and then select worksheets.

If you have any questions, please feel free to post your questions in the Leave a Reply section below or on our official Facebook and or Twitter page. A member of our teaching staff will provide helpful feedback to all questions in the comment section below.

We hope you enjoyed this workshop!

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