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An apostrophe has two jobs: to form a contraction and to show possession.
One of the most common problems with apostrophes is “its” vs. “it’s.” Even spell checkers sometimes miss this one.
Consider an apostrophe to be a link between “it” and “is.” The contraction combines the two (by swallowing the “i” of “is”), leaving only the dot.
“It” is a pronoun, not a noun. Pronouns have their own individual possessive form. In this case, “belonging to it” = “its” (with no apostrophe).
Examples of possessive pronouns:
- “he” > “his”
- “we” > “our”
- “they” > “their”
- “it” > “its”
- The dog chased its ball around the yard.
- Your dress is losing its hem.
Examples: (‘it’s” = contraction, letter left out)
- It’s my football!
- It’s a beautiful day.
- She’s leaving because it’s raining.
- Whenever our team wins, it’s a good day!
The problem is logical, because the apostrophe does show possession, but for NOUNS, not for pronouns.
Think of the apostrophe as the dot for the “i” that disappeared.
(I know, I’ve already said that, but if it’s repeated, it’s important!)
Contractions usually leave the last letter (or two) of the second word and attach it with an apostrophe.
Contractions usually involve “not,” forms of “be,” “have,” “will/shall,” or “would/could/should.” Context explains the contraction of “-ll” for “will/shall” and the “-d” for “would/could/should.” Sometimes the latter is distinguished from “had” by using “-ld”
- it is = it’s
- when is = when’s
- cannot = can’t
- do not = don’t
- they have = they’ve
- she has = she’s
- you shall = you’ll
- we will = we’ll
- he had = he’d
- it would = it’d
- we could = we’d
- you should = you’d
Examples of contractions in sentences:
- It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?
- I’m coming home early.
- There’s going to be a big storm.
- How’re they doing?
- You’ll never guess what he did.
- We’re fine, thank you.
- He’d have been on time if …
- She’ld never say, “Yes.”
- He’d’ve (he would have) left earlier if she’d’a (she would have) told him about the storm.
- We couldn’t’ve (could not have) known a hurricane was coming.
Such contractions should be used sparingly. Readers are not used to seeing them.
Some dialects and slang usage in conversation often leave off final letters, particularly the “g” in “-ing” verbs.
- “When’s Bill comin’?”
- “He’s leavin’ soon.”
- “I’m hoping’ so.”
Possession comes in many forms.
Singular nouns which form their plurals by adding “s” or “es” show possession by adding apostrophe plus “s.”
- The cat’s meow woke him in the middle of the night.
- The knight’s horse stumbled just as they approached the dragon.
- The centerpiece of Miss Hunnicutt’s hat was a live chicken.
Singular nouns ending in a sound similar to but not an “s” (“-ce,” “-x,” “-z”) also show possession with an apostrophe plus “s.”
- The prince’s horse lost its shoe.
- He lifted the box’s lid, and the toy soldier fell out.
- The quiz’s answers were all scrambled.
- The soldiers all stood up straight for appearance’s sake.
- The ox’s pace was too slow to keep up with the horse.
Singular nouns ending in “s” only add an apostrophe (no “s”) for possession.
- Nobody can find the princess’ saxophone.
- He was the toughest army corps’ sergeant.
- Nobody could find the actress’ slipper.
- Would you please shine Andres’ shoes?
Plural nouns not ending in “s”
Normally, possession for plural nouns not ending in “s” is the same as for singular nouns, adding an apostrophe and “s” to the end of the word.
- The men’s mustaches were all different.
- Mother spent three hours picking up the children’s toys.
- Pioneers stuffed their quilts with their geese’s feathers.
- Lucy spent a week sewing the women’s dresses.
- The cat sat next to the traps with the mice’s cheese.
Most plural nouns end in “s.” Only add an apostrophe without the “s.” It sounds the same as the plural, but with a noun after it, the listener will understand it as possessive.
- It doesn’t take long to fill three cats’ litter box.
- Don’t go up there near the snakes’ den.
- The horses’ saddles all needed to be dusted after the drive on the dirt road.
- Ladies’ dresses are not common in my closet.
Plural names ending in “s,” “z,” or soft “ch”
The plural of names (people or places) ending in “s” or “z” or the soft “ch” offers another problem for possession.
If we refer to the entire family by their last name, we would add “es” to indicate more than one person. Adding apostrophe plus “s” makes three “es” sounds in a row. (I would recommend against naming your characters with such names!)
Some of these sound better than others. There is no hard-and-fast rule. Be consistent.
- The Edwardses’ mansion
- The Joneses’ daughter
- The Lopezes’ history
- The Larches’ hot air balloon
- The Edwardses’s mansion
- The Joneses’s daughter
- The Lopezes’s history
- The Larches’s hot air balloon
Plural owners who possess the same object
When an object has two or more owners listed by name or are normally seen as a single unit, the apostrophe follows only the second name.
- Joe and Martina’s wedding took place in the woods behind the church.
- (Joe and Martina are married)
- Tammy and Sally’s brother loved to tease them.
- (Tammy and Sally are sisters)
- my mother and father’s car
- (my mother and my father = my parents)
Plural owners who possess different objects
If they each own a separate object, both owners are listed as possessive and the object is written as plural.
- Joe’s and Martina’s weddings were held on separate days.
- (not to each other)
- Tammy’s and Sally’s brothers are both named Joseph.
- (not sisters, they do not have the same brothers)
- my mother’s and my father’s cars
- (they each have their own car)
Plural owners who possess the same object, one of the owners a pronoun
If one of the owners is listed as a pronoun, use the named owner first followed by the possessive adjective for the pronoun. This follows the rule above for making only the second name in the possessive.
- Martina and his wedding took place in the woods behind the church.
- (Martina and he are married)
- Michael and her brother loved to tease them.
- (Michael and she share a brother)
- Mother and his car broke down on the highway.
- (Mother and Father were in their car.
Plural owners who possess different objects, one of the owners a pronoun
If one of the owners is listed as a pronoun, both (or more) owners should be in the possessive.
- Martina’s and his weddings took place in the woods behind the church on different days..
- (Martina married someone else.)
- Michael’s and her brother loved to tease them.
- (Michael and she have different brother who love to tease them.)
- Mother’s and his car broke down on the highway.
- (Mother was driving one car, and he was driving a different one.)
Words that are not nouns (adjectives, numbers, etc.) may be made plural in one of two ways:
- Simply add an “s” to the word
- Add an apostrophe plus “s” to the word.
Choose the one which seems the clearest to the reader, but then be consistent.
- In his box of 64 colors, he found four blues.
- In his box of 64 colors, he found four blue’s.
- At the contest, four people received firsts for their quilts.
- At the contest, four people received first’s for their quilts.
- Back in the early 1940s, gasoline was rationed.
- Back in the early 1940’s, gasoline was rationed.
For a word used out of context (and in quotation marks), the easy way is to make the plural with an apostrophe and “s,” both before the closing quotation mark.
- He was tired of all her “maybe’s.”
- How many “not applicable’s” did she include on her application?
- “Mother, I am tired of all your ‘No’s.’ “
- (Remember, periods always go inside the closing quotation marks.)
- (And it is acceptable to put a space between a single quotation mark followed by a double.)
- Yes, “misspelled” has two “s’s,” one for the prefix “mis” and one for “spelled.”
- Are there long words other than “abracadabra” that have no vowels other than “a’s”?
Credits: Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash, Image by Pezibear from Pixabay