1. What is an Apostrophe?
An apostrophe (’) is a type of punctuation used for two purposes: to create contractions, and to create the possessive form of a noun. Truth be told, apostrophes cause a lot of problems for writers—they are often misused, misplaced, and misunderstood! This article will teach you how to use them properly, and how to avoid some really common mistakes.
As mentioned, apostrophes are for contractions and possessives. Here are some examples of how we use them:
Jane doesn’t want to do homework. →Contraction (does+not)
I can’t go to the mall tonight.→ Contraction (can+not)
Jane’s homework is not finished.→ Possessive (the homework belongs to Jane)
The students’ uniforms are white.→ Possessive (the uniforms belong to the students)
3. Ways to Use Apostrophes
Apostrophes are absolutely essential for both forming contractions and creating possessives. So, an apostrophe has two jobs: to shorten words and make them less formal, or to show when something belongs to someone or something. In fact, for these types of words, apostrophes are just as important as the letters themselves—without apostrophes, the words simply wouldn’t exist!
A contraction is the combination of two words using an apostrophe. Contractions shorten word combinations and make our writing and speaking less formal. We use them in two ways:
- for personal pronouns (like I, you, etc…)
- for the negative form of certain verbs (verb + not)
Forming a contraction always involves using an apostrophe, followed by one or two letters that work as an abbreviation for the words being combined.
Personal Pronoun Contractions
Sometimes we combine personal pronouns with the verb “to be,” “will,” “have,” “would,” and “had.” The way we form these contractions can vary a bit from pronoun to pronoun. This chart will help you understand how to form personal pronoun contractions. Note: “would” and “had” share the same contraction form!
|Pronoun||+ to be||+ will||+ have/has||+ would/had|
Apostrophes also help us to form contractions for the negative version of certain verbs (Verb + not). When speaking, we often use verb contractions, because they are informal and just quicker to say!
Like with pronouns, verb contractions can sometimes vary (like with “will”), but most of the time you add “n’t” to the verb in place of “not.” Basically, in most cases, you just replace the “o” from “not” with an apostrophe! Here’s another chart, this one with of common verbs and their contractions:
|Regular Verb||Verb + Negative||Contraction|
The other way we use apostrophes is for the possessive form of nouns. The possessive means that you are showing that a noun “possesses” something, in other words, that something belongs to the noun. We form the possessive by adding an apostrophe and “s” to the end of a noun; BUT, their positions are different for singular and plural nouns.
To make the possessive form of a singular noun, we use an apostrophe BEFORE the “s” (Noun + ’ + s), followed by the thing the noun possesses. Here are some examples:
- Jane’s mom told her to do her homework.
- The school’s gym was filled with people for the basketball game.
- Jane’s favorite class is English.
- The teacher’s lesson was boring.
Plural nouns already end in “s” or “es”, so the English language tells us that adding an apostrophe and another “s” is a little bit strange. So, to make the possessive form of a plural noun, the apostrophe goes AFTER the “s” (Noun + s + ’), and you don’t need to add another “s.” Here are some examples:
- The boys’ hats are red and white.
- All of the different tests’ questions were difficult.
- The students’ classes begin at 8am.
- The cars’ owners were all students.
This can seem a bit confusing. So, here are some examples of singular possessives alongside plural possessives, so that you can see the difference:
- The family’s house was big.
The families’ houses were big.
- The girl’s dress was blue.
The girls’ dresses were blue.
- The school’s team competed with other schools.
All the schools’ sports teams competed with each other.
4. How to Avoid Mistakes
People make a lot of mistakes with apostrophes, particularly when it comes to creating plurals. Forming the plural of a noun does not require an apostrophe, EVER, no exceptions! Plurals only require adding “s,” “es,” or “ies” (depending on the word). This often confuses writers.
Accordingly, many writers make the mistake of using apostrophes like this:
- There are 10 girl’s on the team. INCORRECT
- The school’s are having a competition. INCORRECT
They should look like this:
- There are 10 girls on the team. Correct!
- The schools are having a competition. Correct!
In these sentences, there should NOT be any apostrophes. We only need apostrophes to make contractions and possessives, but the words “girls” and “schools” are neither—they are just plurals. Therefore, the apostrophes don’t belong here! Here are some more examples:
- Jane and her friend’s are going to the mall. INCORRECT!
- The family’s are having a barbecue. INCORRECT!
Like the examples above, “friends” and “family’s” don’t work as contractions or possessives in these sentences, so we don’t need apostrophes. Let’s fix them:
- Jane and her friends are going to the mall. Correct!
- The families are having a barbecue. Correct!
So, overall, there are two big rules to remember about apostrophes:
- If the word is not a contraction or a possessive, it doesn’t need an apostrophe!
- Apostrophes do not form plurals!