Apostrophe, Apostrophe, Wherefore art thou Apostrophe?

The poor apostrophe could be rightly forgiven for feeling abused, misused and just plain misunderstood, it appears that quite a lot of people have no idea how, when or why to use one.

The apostrophe has three main standard recognised uses.

1) to form possessives of nouns
2) to show the omission of letters
3) to indicate certain plurals of lower case letters

Forming possessives of nouns

To see if you need to make a possessive of a noun, you need to turn the sentence around and make it an ‘of the’ sentence.

the boy’s dog = the dog of the boy

the hen’s eggs = the eggs of the hen

If the noun after the ‘of’ is either a building, an object or a piece of furniture then you DO NOT need to add an apostrophe.

the seat of the car = car seat

the leg of a chair = chair leg

Now that you’ve found out you need to add a possessive , you follow these rules to create one;

add ‘s to the singular form of the word (even if it ends in -s):

the cat’s collar

James’s ball

add ‘s to the plural forms that do not end in -s:

the children’s park

the chicken’s squawking

add ‘ to the end of plural nouns that end in -s:

houses’ aerials

three friends’ letters

add ‘s to the end of compound words:

my brother-in-law’s new car

add ‘s to the last noun to show joint possession of an object:

Todd and Anne’s swimming pool

Showing omission of letters

We use apostrophes in contractions,see here a contraction is a word (or set of numbers) in which one or more letters (or numbers) have been omitted, the apostrophe is used to show that omission.

don’t = do not

I’m = I am

he’ll = he will

who’s = who is

shouldn’t = should not

didn’t = did not

could’ve = could have (Please, not “could of”, another pet peeve of mine)

’60 = 1960

Forming plurals of lowercase letters

We use apostrophes to form plurals of letters that usually appear in lower case, this appears to be more a typographical matter of form, rather than a grammatical one, it looks more appealing to show something like;

“three p’s”  rather than “three ps”

“Mind your p’s and q’s” looks better than “Mind your ps and qs”

There is no need for apostrophes indicating a plural on capitalised letters, numbers or symbols;

“He had two Pentium2s stashed under his house”.

Apostrophes are NOT used for possessive pronouns or for noun plurals, including acronyms.

You do not need to use an apostrophe for a possessive pronoun because possessive pronouns already indicate possession,  his, her, its, my, yours, ours are possessive pronouns, so adding an apostrophe is redundant.

“His’ house”  = wrong

“His house” = right

And remember that  ‘It’s” and “its” are two very different things so;

“The class made up it’s mind to have an end of year party” = wrong

“The class made up its mind to have an end of year party” = right

“it’s” is a contraction of “it is” “its” is a noun indicating possession

Now that I have REALLY put you all to sleep, just remember that if you think you don’t use apostrophes enough, check your writing for words that end in -s or -es and see if it needs one, or if you think you use too many, and believe me too many apostrophes in the wrong places makes reading anything much more annoying than not enough, check the rules again and see which ones you can safely leave out.

Your lecturer, teacher, editor, friend, lover will appreciate it and you so much more.


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