English grammar help: pesky apostrophes

English grammar help: pesky apostrophes

The Apostrophe

In English there is one form of punctuation that causes a lot of problems. Apostrophes are only little, like commas in the air, but they influence the sound of a word and are an important part of written English.

Types of apostrophes

There are two basic types of apostrophes:

  1. Apostrophes of contraction
  2. Apostrophes of possession

1. Apostrophes of contraction

Contractions are the easiest form. The apostrophe shows where two words have been joined together, and it represents the letters that are missing so for example:

Full formContractionFull formContractionFull formContractionFull formContraction
I amI’mI willI’llI wouldI’dI haveI’ve
You areYou’reYou willYou’llYou wouldYou’dYou haveYou’ve
He isHe’sHe willHe’llHe wouldHe’dHe hasHe’s
She isShe’sShe willShe’llShe wouldShe’dShe hasShe’s
It isIt’sIt willI’llIt wouldIt’dIt hasIt’s
We areWe’reWe willWe’llWe wouldWe’dWe haveWe’ve
They areThey’reThey willThey’llThey wouldThey’dThey haveThey’ve

Other forms: 
Who is = who’s
Does not = doesn’t
Cannot = can’t…

2. Apostrophes of possession

Apostrophes are also used to show who owns something or that something belongs to someone or a group.

  • “My son’s name is James” i.e. the name James belongs to my son.
  • “The old man’s jacket is too small.”
  • “The team’s captain was sent off for a foul.”
  • “Yesterday’s weather was beautiful.”

If a personal names ends in ‘s’ add an apostrophe plus ‘s’, unless it is the name of an organisation.

  • “He joined Charles’s household in June.”
  • “James’s birthday is in August.”
  • “St James’ hospital is now closed.”
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Note – possessive pronouns and possessive determiners already show belonging so you do not need an apostrophe with the words: his or hers, my or mine, our or ours, your or yours, their or theirs. So for instance ‘its tail’, does not need an apostrophe even though ‘its’ means belonging to it.

The apostrophe goes before the final ‘s’ with singular nouns or names, but after the ‘s’ in the plural. For example, ‘The students’ books’ are the books that belong to the students, as opposed to ‘the student’s books’ which only belong to one student.

Note – if the word or words already suggest more than one or a group, then use ‘s.

For example: “Children’s meals will be provided” and “Emma and Jane’s mother is due soon.”

Apostrophes are also used to show belonging when words have been missed out. For example:

“We went to Androv’s [house] to watch Match of the Day.” and “The Madina’s is the best Indian restaurant but Gurkha’s [restaurant] does a good curry. “

You don’t need to use an apostrophe to form the plurals of nouns, abbreviations, or dates made up of numbers. Instead, just add an ‘s’ (or an ‘es’, if the noun in question forms its plural with ‘es’).

For example: ‘the 1990s’ and ‘M.P.s’.

image: David Jones 

Similar article: The Oxford Comma

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