Apostrophes

 

PowerPoint Presentation

To learn more about apostrophes, check out our slideshow, The Mighty Apostrophe.

 

Usage

The apostrophe [ ‘ ] is a form of punctuation used to show possession and to contract verbs.

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Contractions

When used to create contractions, the apostrophe shows where a letter, or letters, has been left out of a verb construction:

Verb Construction

Contraction

I am I’m
You are You’re
She is She’s
It is It’s

Verb Construction

Contraction

Let us Let’s
She will She’ll
She would She’d
He would have He would’ve

Verb Construction

Contraction

They had They’d
Do not Don’t
Who is Who’s

As a general rule, contractions should not appear in academic or professional writing. See the section on tone for more information on contractions.

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It’s Versus Its

Remember that it’s means it is or it has. Confusing it’s with its, the possessive of it, is perhaps the most common error in writing. Remember, too, that there is no appropriate contraction for there are. Don’t confuse they’re, which means they are with there are (which can sound like ther’re).

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Possession

In possessives, the placement of the apostrophe depends on whether the noun that shows possession is singular or plural. Generally, if the noun is singular, the apostrophe goes before the s:

Apostrophe Use with a Singular Noun

  • The witch’s broom is enormous.
  • The dog’s collar is too tight.
  • Jessica’s books fell out of her bag.

If the noun is plural, the apostrophe goes after the s:

Apostrophe Use with a Plural Nouns

  • The witches’ brooms are enormous.
  • The dogs’ collars are too tight.
  • The students’ books fell out of their bags.

However, if the word is pluralized without an s, the apostrophe comes before the s:

Apostrophe Use with a Pluralized Nouns

  • He entered the men’s room with an armload of children’s clothing.
  • The women’s washroom was relocated to the end of the hallway.

You have the option of creating a possessive with a prepositional phrase such as of the witches, in which case you would not use any apostrophes. Constructions such as this, however, tend to be awkward.

Creating Possessives Without Apostrophes

  • The brooms of the witches are enormous.
  • The collars of the dogs are too tight.
  • The books of the students fell out of their bags.
  • The stamps belonging to James are antiques.

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Plurals

An apostrophe is also used to form some plurals, especially the plural of letters and digits.

Using the Apostrophe to Form Plurals

  • Raoul got four A’s last term.
  • His sister got four 6’s in the ice-skating competition.

This is particularly useful when the letter being pluralized is in the lower case:

  • She was minding her p’s and q’s.
  • His mother reminded him to dot his i’s.

In a context in which the plural is clear, apostrophes after upper-case letters are not necessary:

  • He got four As, two Bs, and three Cs.

It is NOT correct to create the plural of years or decades or abbreviations with an apostrophe:

  • He wrote several novels during the 1930s.
  • There are fifteen PhDs on our faculty.
  • My sister and I have identical IQs.

(If you wrote Ph.D. with periods, you would add an apostrophe before the pluralizing s: Ph.D.’s.)

If the abbreviation or acronym ends in S, it’s a good idea to separate this final S from the pluralizing s with an apostrophe:

  • When he was stranded on the island, he sent over a hundred SOS’s.

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Exercises

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