How To Use Apostrophes: Common Mistakes

For many people the use of apostrophes is a confusing subject. I know because I'm one of those people.

This page will set out the various uses for apostrophes including information on when apostrophes should NOT be used. Many people have a policy of "if in doubt use an apostrophe." The problem with this is that when apostrophes are used inappropriately they can change the meaning of a sentence altogether.

The problem that I have had is that each time I have learned how to use apostrophes I have forgotten again just a few months later. I believe this is because I didn't practise using them enough, so I simply forgot. To help you avoid this problem I will add links to a couple of websites where you can practise your grammar and apostrophe use. This should help to cement things in your mind.

The Main Ways That Apostrophes Are Used

Apostrophes are used in contractions and to indicate possession.

Not sure what that means? Let me explain.


Contractions

Contractions are when two words are contracted into one. For example she is becomes she's, or it is becomes it's. What the apostrophe is showing us here is that there are missing letters. The apostrophe goes in their place.

One of the most common mistakes that people make when using apostrophes is the the way that they use it in relation to the word it's. When we are using the word it's to mean it is as in "It's a cat" we use an apostrophe.

When we use its to mean possession, as in "The dog chased its tail" there is no apostrophe needed. Using an apostrophe would mean that we were really saying "The dog chased it is tail" which of course makes no sense.

To help you remember this rule about it's and its check whether there are any missing letters. If not then you don't need to use an apostrophe.



Possession

Apostrophes are also used to show possession of something; to show belonging. An example would be "The dog's ball" Here we can see that the ball belongs to the dog.

Other examples would be:

The cat's whiskers

The man's hat

The woman's braces

Possessive apostrophes are slightly complicated by plurals though, so here are the basic rules.

Firstly, is the word plural or singular? For example, cat is singular.

For singular possession just add 's

So it becomes "The cat's whiskers"

If the word is plural such as cats just add an '

So it becomes "The cats' whiskers" (whiskers belonging to many cats)

If the word is plural and doesn't already end in s add 's

An example would be children

So it becomes "The children's clothes"

One important thing to remember with possessive apostrophes is that you cannot just invent new words for them. The word before the apostrophe must be a real word. For example you cannot say "The ladie's handbag" The correct version would be either "The lady's handbag" or "The ladies' handbags"

Also remember possessive its never uses an apostrophe.

There are some additional rules for possessive apostrophes but the above will be sufficient for anyone but the most advanced linguist.

Plurals

One of the most common mistakes that people make with apostrophes is using them for simple plurals. An example of this would be "The carrot's were delicious" 

In the above example we can see that the apostrophe was not being used to indicate that there were letters missing, nor was it being used to denote possession. For this reason it is incorrect. Plurals of this kind do not need apostrophes.

Apostrophe lesson

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Do You Have Trouble With Apostrophes? 1 comment

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marimccants 5 years ago

Very informative hub! It is very useful. Voted up!

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