Apostrophes Copy

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Apostrophes have two main uses.

  • To show possession
  • To indicate contractions

However, apostrophes are also seen in Irish names (like O’Connor) or as the closing quotation mark when single quotation marks are being used.

Problems arise mostly though, with confusing possessions and contractions, and plurals.

Plus, there are some exceptions!

Possession

The apostrophe shows who (or what) owns something.

The owner need not be named; ‘doctor’ is a common noun.

Mary is the daughter of the doctor.

Mary is the doctor’s daughter.

The owner can be named; ‘John’ is a proper noun

The book belongs to John.

It is John’s book.

Either way, the apostrophe appears after the noun and before the s.

Notice that, if the owner is plural, the apostrophe is placed after the s.

Jim has two grown up daughters: Jill and Mary.

Jim visits his daughters’ houses often.

If ownership by two people is separate, both need an apostrophe.

Jim visits Jill’s and Mary’s houses often.

If ownership is joint, only one apostrophe is needed.

Jill is married to Peter Turner.

Jim visits Jill and Peter’s house often.

If the ownership is someone whose name doesn’t end in an s …

Jim attended the Turners’ BBQ.

If the ownership is someone whose name does end in an s …

Mary is married to Mike Gibbs.

Jim often stays at the Gibbses’ house.

What about nouns that are plural but don’t have the usual final ’s’ or ‘es’? These are called irregular nouns.

The women’s powder room is along the corridor.

The men’s facilities are by reception.

The owner doesn’t need to be a person. It could be a period of time, like a month, week or day.

The office staff are all on three months’ notice.

Beware the time nouns, that are not being used possessively.

The postcard I sent from Majorca arrived two weeks later.

Contractions

The apostrophe shows that one or more letters have been omitted; this is called an elision.

In English, especially when we speak, we contract words. Here are some more examples.

Full form

Contraction

cannot

can’t

do not

don’t

ever

e’er

he is

he’s

he has

he’s

I have

I’ve

I would

I’d

of the clock

o’clock

she will

she’ll

they are

they’re

though

tho’

Plurals

Apostrophes are not generally used for plurals. There are complex rules as to how a singular noun is made plural.

  • Sometimes, it’s as simple as an -s at the end.

cat, cats

  • Sometimes, because of the final letter, it’s -es

box, boxes

The only time an apostrophe is used for plurals, is for individual letters of the alphabet.

Mind your p’s and q’s.

Cross your t’s and dot your i’s.

It’s also extended, rarely, to words.

No if’s or but’s

The apostrophe should not be used for plurals for eras or capitalised abbreviations.

1960s

CDs

PCs

It would be appropriate to use an apostrophe if the era is used as an adjective, and becomes possessive.

… In the 1960’s era …

However, it’s simpler to omit ‘era’ and the apostrophe?

Exceptions

Where things go wrong is in the apostrophe exceptions. The classic case is whether or not there’s an apostrophe in its.

Is it its or it’s? Now,

it’s = it is

and this agrees with the contraction rule
Whereas,

its = belonging to it

but breaks the possession rule.

There are similar issues with possessive pronouns which also breaking the possession rule for apostrophes.

The book belongs to them; it is theirs.
The book belongs to you; it is yours.
Who does the book belong to? Whose book is it?