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Back-to-School Review of Apostrophes

09 Oct Posted by in English and Grammar | 330 comments

Apostrophes are used to form contractions and possessives.  They  denote missing letters in contractions, and who possesses the object in possessives.  Many possessives have homonyms, so it is important whether to know which word to use.

What About Apostrophes in Contractions?
Apostrophes in contractions show that there are letters missing, such as can’t, shouldn’t, and he’ll.  When a contraction is formed with not, such as can’t for can not, only one letter is missing.  Contractions like he’ll for he will, she’ll for she will, we’ve for we have, and they’ve for they have, are missing two letters.  Contractions such as he’d for he would, she’d for she would, and they’d for they would are missing more than two letters.  The contraction won’t for will not changes the spelling of the word entirely.

What About Apostrophes in Singular Possessives?
Most possessives for singular nouns are formed by adding the apostrophe and s, such as the boy’s bicycle, the garden’s gate, the dog’s bone, and the cat’s paw.  The rule is the same for proper nouns, such as  Susan’s car, John’s house, and Marcia’s door.  There are a few exceptions for biblical and classical names, such as Moses’ tablets, Jesus’ disciples, and Hercules’ strength.   Expressions involving time and amounts use singular possessives if the possessive is singular such as a week’s vacation.

What About Apostrophes in Plural Possessives?
Most plurals end in s or es.  They add the apostrophe after the s,  such as the girls’ team, the buses’ lane, or the soldiers’ uniforms.  A few plurals do not end in s, such as the oxen’s yoke, the children’s game, or the sheep’s shearing, and those add the apostrophe and s.   Expressions involving time and amounts use plural possessives if the possessive is plural, such as four pounds’ worth.

Which Homonym Has the Apostrophe?
The contraction it’s means it is, while the possessive its does not have an apostrophe. Similarly, the contraction they’re means they are, the possessive there does not have an apostrophe, and neither does the adverb there.  The contraction there’s means there is, and the possessive theirs does not have an apostrophe.

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