The Apostrophe - Don't let it fool you!

The Apostrophe – Learn to use it correctly!

The apostrophe is one of the most often misused marks of punctuation – and it has been written about endlessly, some with very clever titles.   There is still much misuse and abuse.


The purpose of the apostrophe - 2 uses

The apostrophe indicates a few things – and only a few specific things:

  • (a) To show that a few letters are missing
  • (b) To show the Possessive form of a noun

It does NOT indicate a plural. A plural does not have an apostrophe. Repeat that.  It does NOT indicate a plural.

It also does NOT indicate a possessive of a pronoun.


Repeat: 

The apostrophe does NOT indicate a plural.

The apostrophe is NOT used to indicate a plural.





At right is another example of a common error is shown here.  People make this error all too often.

The apostrophe is used to make the word plural. It's WRONG!   (...and worse because it's on a sign!)

Remove the apostrophe to correct the error. 







Today, with the proliferation of the cell phone and text messaging, the proper use of the English language has become a challenge.  People do not want to take the time in a cell phone text message to spell properly or to use capital letters.  Abbreviations are most common and special “text jargon” created to mean special phrases.  But that’s another story.


(a) To show that a few letters are missing...

The most common use is with abbreviations.  With a negative expression - for example, do not – it is possible to abbreviate or shorten the two words.   The letter “o” in “not” is left out.

To indicate that the letters are missing, the correct procedure is to add the apostrophe.



I do not becomes...

I don't

I could not becomes...

I couldn't

I cannot becomes...

I can't

I should not becomes...

I shouldn't

Then an irregular one:


I will not becomes...

I won't


The examples used above are common abbreviations and often are spelled quite correctly.  Using the apostrophe to show that letters are missing is generally something that people know.

If people make an error here, it is more likely to be a typo - 

 

do'nt instead of don’t  (incorrect)

 

However, a little thought given to which letter is the one omitted will help the user to spell this abbreviation correctly.

 

Another egregious error - your rather than you're

Very common!

your - instead of you're

  • You are going to love your new home.  (correct)
  • You're going to love your new home.  (correct)

Too many write your instead of you're. 

Your going to love your new home.  (incorrect)

If you know what it is you are saying, then it should be easy to make the correct choice.  Many use the improper form in telephone text messages - and it's a matter of not thinking ahead.

Learn the correct uses so that you can become an excellent writer!


(b) To show the Possessive form of the noun

Nouns are words that indicate a person, a place, or a thing.  Nouns can be proper noun (as names of people or places) or common nouns – regular nouns that identify something.

Examples of Common Nouns

desk, house, school, boy, girl, dog, ball

Examples of Proper Nouns

Tom, Sally, Toronto, Athens, ABC Company




FIRST - Singular nouns to show possession

When something belongs to a noun, the apostrophe is used to show possession. 

Add apostrophe + s to show possession.


The house that belongs to Tom becomes

Tom's house

Take the original (Tom) and add the 's

The parents of Sally becomes

Sally's parents

Take the original (Sally) and add the 's

The roof of the school becomes

The school's roof

Take the original (school) and add 's


These examples above are quite standard and straightforward.  There are complications that cause difficulty.  If there is no "s" at the end of the word, it's easy to add 's.

If the singular noun ends in an “s” there is a bit of a difference. 

  • Some nouns that end in “s" are singular.
  • Other nouns that end in “s” are plural. 

How you treat them depends on whether they are singular or plural.


Singular nouns can be names:  Ross, Jess, Athens, James

To show possessive when the noun is singular, add the apostrophe + s. 

However, listen to how you say it. 

  • If you pronounce the second “s” add the apostrophe + s. 
  • If you don’t pronounce it, you may not have to add the second “s.”  Add only the apostrophe.

The book that belongs to Ross becomes

Ross's book  OR  Ross' book

In the above example with Ross, you pronounce the extra "s" and so it is okay to add the extra "s."

  • You say:  Rosses book. 
  • It does not sound correct to say: Ross book.

The spelling in this example (with or without the extra "s")  is correct either way.  However, you will still pronounce the extra "s" when you say it.  You will hear Rosses book.


The same applies to Jess and the same to James

  • You can say Jameses book  - so you may add the apostrophe + s.  

James's book

  • You say Rosses book – so you may add the apostrophe + s.

Ross's book

  • Even if you see Ross’ (without the extra "s") you can still pronounce it as Rosses book.

Ross' book

  • Even if you see James' (without the extra "s") you can still pronounce it as Jameses book.

James' book

 The spelling can depend on how you actually pronounce the word.




Here is an example from a paperback novel, Killer Ambition.  On Page 289, the author, Marcia Clark, writes the following.  Please note the red font indicating the possessive of two names:


"My bet would be Brian.  He and Hayley were about to come into a million bucks.  Mas as well live it up."  They'd deal with Russell's wrath later.  "We'll need to get into Powers's and Averly's backgrounds, build up the history between them.  Show they had a connection before the kidnapping."


The example above shows that, even with the "s" at the end of the name, Powers, the author has added both the apostrophe and the "s." 

How would you pronounce that?

Powerses and Averlys

You could also write:

"We'll need to get into Powers' and Averly's backgrounds..."

And then you would pronounce it as:

Powers and Averlys




Another type of singular that ends in "s"

Consider the word Athens.  It is singular and ends in "s."  However, how do you pronounce it?

  • You cannot say Athenses – it just does not work.
  •  If you have to show possession, add only the apostrophe.

 The clubs of Athens becomes  Athens’ clubs  (not Athens's clubs)


Take the original (Athens) and add the apostrophe alone. 

Athens'


SECOND - Plurals that show possession

Plurals often end in “s” but not always.  There are plurals that do not end in “s”. 

Plurals that don't end in "s"

children, oxen

Plurals that do end in "s"

teens, homes


So, what is the possessive of children and oxen?  Very simple. 

  • The original does not have an "s."  (children, oxen)
  • Add apostrophe + s. 
  • When you pronounce the word, there is only one "s" sound.

The mother of the children becomes

The children's mother

Take the original (children) and add 's

The yokes of the oxen becomes

The oxen's yokes

Take the original (oxen) and add 's

So, what is the possessive of teens and homes?  Very simple. 

  • The original already ends in "s." (teens, homes)
  • Consider how you pronounce the word, there is only one "s" sound.
  • Add only the apostrophe.

The mother of the teens becomes

The teens' mother

Take the original (teens) and add only the apostrophe - because there is already an "s"

You don't say teenses.  You say teens.

The roofs of the homes becomes

The homes' roofs

Take the original (homes) and add only the apostrophe - because there is already an "s."

You don't say homeses.  You say homes.


Summary - to show possession

The basic rules are:

  • For words that do not end in "s," add apostrophe + s.
  • For words that already end in "s," add only apostrophe.

However, consider the renunciation. Consider how you pronounce the word to help you know if you should add the extra "s" or not.


Make it easy on yourself.   Turn the phrase around so that you have a good understanding of the original. 

Turning the phrase around will help you figure out how to construct the possessive form.

  • You hear:   the teens house
  • Turn it around:   the house of the teens
  • the teens' house
  • But list

There is an "s" at the end on the original (teens), so add apostrophe only to show possession.

  • Generally, if the original ends in "s" add only the apostrophe. 
  • en to how you pronounce the word.

************

  • You hear:   Athens citizens
  • Turn it around:   the citizens of Athens
  • Athens' citizens

There is an "s" at the end of the original (Athens), so add apostrophe only.


************

  • You hear:   James house
  • Turn it around:   the house of James
  • James' house 

There is an "s" at the end on the original (James), so add apostrophe only to show possession.


************

  • You hear Rosses sister
  • Turn it around:  the sister of Ross
  • Ross' sister  OR  Ross's sister

There is an "s" at the end of the original (Ross), so add apostrophe only.  (However, because you hear the extra "s" sound, you can add the apostrophe + "s.")


Finally, remember that plurals do not have apostrophes.


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In the poem below, note the errors - the plurals with the apostrophes.  Can you find them?  There are two clear errors of plurals with apostrophes.  Remember, plurals should NOT have apostrophes.


Finally - possessives and pronouns

The apostrophe is used to show possession with a noun - but NOT to show possession with a pronoun.

There are occasions when some of those words above do have an apostrophe - but NOT to show possession.  It's the other use - to show that letters are omitted or left out.

  it's = it is

Sometimes you'll see an egregious error - an apostrophe with other pronouns.  These are TOTALLY WRONG and must be avoided!

Egregious errors below:

their's   your's  her's 

...and so on

So, I hope you have understood when to use the apostrophe and when NOT to use the apostrophe.