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Apostrophes, Adjectives and Adverbs, the Conditional: More Common Mistakes in Writing and Speaking English

Updated on September 15, 2019
annart profile image

Ann is a retired teacher of literacy and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) to multi-national & dyslexic students, having a DipSpLD

Definition of Apostrophe


Apostrophe or Not?

The misuse or lack of use of apostrophes where needed drives me mad! I'll qualify that; it drives me mad when those who abuse them are professionals.

I don't expect the whole world to know about them, I don't expect those for whom English is a second language to always get them right, I don't expect the local greengrocer to write correctly his board advertising today's cheap vegetables "Fresh Green's!" (should be Fresh Greens - no apostrophe)

An apostrophe is used in two situations:

  • to indicate an omission of a letter or letters
  • to indicate possession (sometimes!)

It can be a problem for many but is simpler than you think.

Let's take the omission of letters first.

Omission of Letters

"I cannot do that" sounds a bit stilted if we say it. Normal conversation is not like that, we do not talk this way.

Instead we say, "I can't do that", normal conversation "isn't" like that and we "don't" talk that way.

"cannot" becomes "can't"; we have taken out the letters /no/, so we replace them by an apostrophe.

"is not" becomes "isn't"; this time we've removed the /o/.

"do not" becomes "don't", again by removing the /o/.

"we have" becomes "we've", by removing the letters /ha/.

'we are' becomes "we're".

Other examples are: What's (what is), they're (they are), it's (it is)

Do you get the picture? Simple really, isn't it?

Missing Letters



This is usually the one that catches out so many writers.

I mentioned the greengrocer's sign. He was talking about "greens", as in green vegetables. This is the plural, more than one, where all you need to do is add the letter /s/.

In the first sentence of this paragraph is the word "greengrocer's"; I was talking about his sign, the sign belonging to one greengrocer, the greengrocer's sign. The sign belongs to him so we have to put an apostrophe to indicate the possession.

Now comes the complicated part!

If you have more than one person to whom an object or objects belong, the apostrophe goes after the letter /s/. Here's an example:

Singular - one girl: The girl had some chewing gum. It was the girl's chewing gum.

Plural - two or more girls: The girls had some beer (to share between them)! It was the girls' beer.

Plural - two or more girls + two or more bags: The girls had some bags. They were the girls' bags.

It's only the number of people or things to which something belongs which affects the position of the apostrophe.

There are also plurals with /es/ instead of a single /s/:

foxes, boxes

In this case, the apostrophe still goes after the /s/:

The foxes' coats were a vibrant russett.

Ann's Bike!

Mine, all Mine!
Mine, all Mine! | Source

Names Ending in /s/

One more thing; people's names ending in /s/.

James, Rees, Frances, Doris are just a few. English is kind to you for this one; you can choose!

James has a cat. It's James' cat or it's James's cat. You usually hear two of the letter /s/ when you say it so you can add the extra /s/ if you wish.

Doris owns a house. It's Doris' house. It's Doris's house. Which one do you prefer?

Singular & Plural

Little me in Granddad's Boots!
Little me in Granddad's Boots! | Source
At some friends' celebration.
At some friends' celebration. | Source

Beware the Irregular Plurals

There are plural words which are not made by simply adding an /s/ to the single. For example:

men, women, people (already plural words), sheep (the same for singular & plural).

These words take an apostrophe before the /s/, just like the single word:

'The men's trousers were beautifully embroidered!' (all the men had beautifully embroidered trousers, or all the trousers for men were beautifully embroidered).

'The people's party voted for change.'

'The sheep's foot was damaged.' (one sheep). 'The sheep's field was huge.' (all the sheep)

Plural words

The children's playground.
The children's playground. | Source

It's & Its

I'm always asked about this one. It's a pig of an issue.

Notice I've used "it's" in that second sentence. What's that short for? You've got it - "it is". It's a contraction so follows the same rules as our first section in that a letter is missing and you've substituted an apostrophe. Easy, eh?

Ok. So now the word "Its". Take a deep breath!

Think about "his" and "hers". It belongs to him so it is "his". It belongs to her so it is "hers". A logical progression is that if it belongs to it, then we write "its", NO apostrophe.

his, hers, its - simple, yes? Yes.

Look at the following examples for clarification:

It's the tenth time today the dog has jumped through its hoop. (It is the tenth time today that the dog has jumped through the hoop that belongs to it.)

It's time that bird had its wings clipped. (It is time someone clipped the wings that belong to that bird.)

See why we need the word "its"? Bit long-winded without it, don't you think?

It's a tractor. Its wheels are yellow.

The tractor's wheels are yellow.
The tractor's wheels are yellow. | Source

Nouns & Adjectives

Ok. Now we'll move on to Adjectives and Adverbs. To understand these, firstly we have to look at nouns and adjectives.

A noun is a thing, object, or person, such as "a table", "a boy", "a piece of paper".

We often want to know what a noun is like, we need to describe it. We use an adjective to describe a noun.

The baby was ugly. ("baby" is the noun, "ugly" is the adjective)

The information was correct. ("information" - noun; "correct" - adjective)

There are various types of nouns but we'll stick to the basics for now.

He put the pretty picture on the brick wall. Can you spot the nouns and the adjectives? Nouns - "picture" & "wall"; adjectives - "pretty" & "brick": excellent, well done! Yes, well spotted, "brick" can be a noun as well but here it is used as an adjective.

You're starting to wonder why I'm stating the obvious aren't you?

It's because we need these basics to go on to where many make mistakes - the adverbs! "Oh no", I hear you cry, "Not the adverbs!"

A colourful, stripy Gromit!

This is a stripy Gromit.
This is a stripy Gromit. | Source

Verbs & Adverbs

Adverbs are directly connected to verbs.

A verb is a "doing" word, in its basic form preceded by "to", such as "to do", "to make", "to ski", "to play football".

The adverb plays its part by telling us how the verb is done.

He played football. That's rather a boring sentence. We're not really interested. However, if I tell you that he played football scintillatingly, you're beginning to take a little more interest. The word "scintillatingly" is an adverb. An adverb usually has the letters "ly" at the end (but not always; English is full of exceptions as you well know). It tells you how he played.

So, look at the following:

The boy played good. WRONG! The boy played well (there's one of the exceptions). Good is an adjective, well is the adverb.

The boy played a good game. Correct! The word "good" refers to the game, not how the boy played.

I've made a wonderful (adjective) cake. I made it carefully (adverb). Are you beginning to get the idea? I hope so.

Find the Adverbs!

We posed perfectly on this auspicious occasion.
We posed perfectly on this auspicious occasion. | Source
(My Mum took this photo.)  They looked proudly at their daughter whilst I gazed lovingly at my gentle Mum.
(My Mum took this photo.) They looked proudly at their daughter whilst I gazed lovingly at my gentle Mum. | Source

The Verb "to be"

Just when you think you've got this verb/adverb thing, I'm going to disappoint you. "To be" is a verb which tells you about the state of someone or something. It tells you how they are.

I am clever. He is wonderful. They are magnificent.

When using this verb you only need adjectives.

You can't say, "He is handsomely." You know this of course; I'm just making sure that you realise "to be" is a verb.

Right, we've got that out of the way, let's move on!

The Conditional

Don't panic! This is the last section. I have to get this off my chest.

The conditional is all to do with possibilities, there being conditions as to whether or not something will happen. The conditional goes with words like "if", "would", "should".

"He would make a pie if only he had the ingredients." (He can't make a pie but he would like to.)

"Would that he had said hello to her!" (It would have been a good idea but he didn't say hello.)

"I don't think he should do that." (It's not a good idea for him to do that.)

The problems seem to be mainly with the subjunctive "were". It seems that, more and more, "was" is being used instead of "were". Ok, so language evolves but it still gives a slightly different meaning.

"If I were to come over tonight, would you be available?" There is a distinct possibility that you won't go. (I might not come over but if I did....)

Giving advice is a situation where this is used more often. "If I were you, I'd think twice about going out with him." (I'm not you but, put in your position, I would.....)

If only I were there.......

If I were there again, I'd tell them how great they were.
If I were there again, I'd tell them how great they were. | Source

The Minefield of Language

The English language can seem like a minefield but most of it is fairly logical once you get used to it! If you want to make it your profession or at least use it frequently, then it's up to you to be the best you can and learn as much as possible.

If English is your second language, then that's a different kettle of fish. Hats off to you if you can speak it well, make yourself understood most of the time and write it with few mistakes. I'll allow you the benefit of the doubt if there are some errors.

I speak French fairly well and write it too but that's the only language other than English of which I can claim knowledge. If I could even speak another language as well as some ESL hubbers write English then I would be happy.

However, if English is your first language, please check if you're not sure about grammar. There are some excellent grammar reference books out there. The quantity is overwhelming but I would recommend those which come under the Oxford University Press banner as they tend to be the best.

Writing from the heart, with a passion about something with which you are familiar will get you a long way. Words are the building bricks, good spelling and grammar are the scaffolding that supports your work. Strong scaffolding will set your work high and make it go even farther.

Good Luck!

Grammar is the Scaffolding Holding it all Together

Words are the building bricks.  Grammar is the scaffolding, the support you build around them.
Words are the building bricks. Grammar is the scaffolding, the support you build around them. | Source

English Pitfalls

Which of those aspects above is the most difficult for you?

See results

© 2014 Ann Carr


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    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Catherine. Your hubs on grammar are always brilliant.

      Yes, the apostrophe is so difficult for some. It doesn't always matter but it does if the professionals get it wrong!

      Thanks for the visit; good to see you as always.


    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Good work Ann explaining these grammar points. Some of your pictures were adorable. The apostrophe can be tricky.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      Hi, Dolores! You are quite right regarding the men and the girls! I think I was having a bird brain moment with the chickens - probably thinking about the word 'chicken' used for the meat in general - so I've amended that. Thanks for being so vigilant!

      Lovely to see you here. Hope (in the end!) that this helped with your plural possessives.


    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Ann - I have a terrible time with plural possessive. Looking at your irregular plural possessives, I am thinking that if the word itself is a plural like men as the plural for man, then you write the word "men's." But since the word "girls" is the same as the singular "girl + s" that's when you add the apostrophe after the S ?

      But you included "chicken" in the irregulars and chicken (sick of putting in quotes, I better read your hub on quotes) is the same if it's singular or plural. ?

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Hi again, Faith! Yes, apostrophes are fine in print these days, as long as they're used properly.

      I've a few more hubs waiting to be finalised after the holidays so it's good to get going again. Great to see you twice today!


    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Hi Ann,

      I came here again looking for your latest hub I thought I saw yesterday on my phone that popped in. But in doing so, I noticed in my initial comment here, that I stated I tend to underuse apostrophes ... as I, for some reason, tend to write out the entire word instead of writing it as we speak normally. I always seem to write out the word "cannot" and now I am reminded once again it is okay to use contractions more such as "can't" as we do in normal speech.

      Glad to see you publishing again.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thank you carrie! I'm glad I've managed to pass something on and thanks for the second visit - much appreciated.


    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Carrie Lee Night 

      6 years ago from Northeast United States

      I learned something new today ! :). Thank you so much. Voted up and useful.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Mel: Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment. The usual spelling rule for doubling consonants is that you ask the question, "Is the preceding vowel short or long?' e.g. dig (short i) becomes digging; hope (long o) becomes hoping (otherwise it's hopping, the continuous of hop!). Easy!

      You're right, spell checkers are a great help, as long as you can recognise which choice you need!

      Great to see you! Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      RTalloni: Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay in responding; don't know how I missed that. Yes, proof-reading is essential and can halve the errors! Have a great day! Ann

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      6 years ago from San Diego California

      I think through the years I have come to master these issues. My big problem is spelling issues where double consonants are involved, but now we have spell check so there is no need to bust my noodle trying to master that. I too am outraged by the misuse of the apostrophe by people in high positions that should know better. Great hub!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Refreshing my memory is always good so thanks for an interesting read that writers can benefit from. Good methodical proofreading is a best friend that we ignore too often… :)

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Eddy, for reading and leaving your comments. Good to see you.


    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Very useful and well informed. voting up and sharing.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks for the visit, Victoria. I don't really understand the problem with it either but it exists everywhere so thought I'd try to explain! I'm a grammar geek too!

      I much appreciate you stopping by. Ann

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      6 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Very well explained! I've never understood why people have such problem with putting apostrophes on words that aren't possessive. :-) But, then again, I've always been in love with grammar! Great hub!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Glad you found it useful Nell. There's no shame in having difficulty with some parts of language; think of it as a mental block! Your visit is much appreciated. Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks WillStarr! I appreciate your visit. Ann

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      This is really useful, I don't mind admitting it, like always, just above the comment, I am useless when it comes to that darn Apostrophe! lol! I think I know, then the pc yells at me and underlines it, so I think, is it right? or is the computer right? lol! great advice, thanks

    • WillStarr profile image


      6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Your so smart.

      (Just teasing!)

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Ebonny, thank you for your kind comments and I'm glad you found this useful. Apologies for not responding sooner; I'm now back in England and trying to catch up! I appreciate your visit. Ann

    • Ebonny profile image


      6 years ago from UK

      This is another very useful hub from you Ann. I am bookmarking it for future reference when I am in doubt on the topics covered. Well explained and easy to follow. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. :-D

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      R.Q., I love your example, oldie or not! It's one of the great ones because it makes us laugh.

      Apologies for being late in responding to your comment; wifi in France is hit and miss when moving around the countryside! Will be back into the swing of things by the end of May at the latest.

      Thanks for stopping by; always great to see you. Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      creativelycc: thank you for reading and I'm glad you found this useful. I appreciate your comment. Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      You're welcome, Audrey, and thank you for your kind comment.

      Apologies for being late in replying; I've been without wifi for a couple of weeks. Ann

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      P.S. It's a bit of an oldie. I hope you like cheese :)

      Enjoy a pleasant week.


    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      i/ Let's eat grandad!

      ii/Let's eat, grandad.

      Punctuation saves lives :)

      There's always room for personal improvement, and most of us certainly make these mistakes from time to time.

      Thank you Ann.

    • creativelycc profile image

      Carrie L Cronkite 

      6 years ago from Maine

      This is excellent English lesson, I'm going to print this out and use it as a reference. Thank you!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Useful with clear examples-Thank you for this!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Glad to be of help teaches! It seems to be one that many have difficulty with. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Much appreciated. Ann

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I so need to pin this to my office wall. My brain gets tangled when it comes to proper usage of apostrophes. Thank you!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks Frank. I appreciate your comment. Your grammar is obviously inbuilt, then, because it seems pretty good to me!

      By the way, congrats on the response to your poetry challenge. It's going really well, isn't it? I love the occasional challenges here on hubpages. Ann

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      im not that crazy about grammar... if the message is clear that's good enough for me...:) but this is a great hub Annart :)

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Kathleen. Good to see you. I'm afraid I'm a bit of a purist but that's how I was taught and I often yell at the tv when the professionals get the basic stuff wrong! I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Ann

    • Kathleen Odenthal profile image

      Kathleen Odenthal 

      6 years ago from Bridgewater

      Good post Ann! I am a bit of a grammar nazi myself and you touched on lots of great stuff!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Me too. I almost just placed an exclamation right there.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      The main thing people overuse is the exclamation mark and I am one of the worst offenders!!! I have to physically restrain my finger from the key....! I do think that most people really know these things, it's just the occasional reminder that's needed.

      Thank you so much for your comment and votes. Ann

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Ann, Thank you for these great reminders. I am one to underuse the apostrophe as I remember reading somewhere we should not use too many, but you are so right as we do not speak in such a manner. Great hub. Up and more.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      tobusiness: You are a good writer. I don't think you need to cringe over any of your hubs. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment and votes. Ann

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Ann, a very useful hub! I know I cringe every time I go back to my old hubs. Up and sharing.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, DDE. I'm glad you found it helpful. I like your writing. From an EFL teacher's point of view, I'd like to help by suggesting that when you proof-read, just add a few commas and full stops where natural pauses are required. I hope you don't mind my saying this. You have great ideas which deserve to be read with ease and flow.

      If you want any proof-reading done, I'm happy to help without charge.

      Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you have a great day. Ann

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Valuable information here a simple to read and understand hub with all helpful points here.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      I know the problem, bill! Sunday is going well thanks. Bit rainy but peaceful.

      Great to hear from you as always. Yes, I hope there are a few who will benefit from this.

      Some people tell me that grammar is not important, that it's the words and the creativity that count. I understand what they mean but without the bedrock of grammar we lose meaning and reading becomes difficult.

      I'm a purist, I know, and maybe I take it too far occasionally but that's just me. Take it or leave it, warts and all!!

      Hope your day is peaceful and fun! Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, John! I don't think you need much help either but I appreciate your comment and your support. Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Hi Jamie! Haven't noticed you needing this but good to hear from you. Thanks so much for the comment. Ann

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning Ann!

      Keep writing these articles, please. Hopefully some writers on HP will read them and learn. My biggest problem with apostrophes? I tend to hold the shift key down too long with contractions, and my apostrophes always end up quotation marks. LOL People think I don't know the difference when in fact I simply can't get my darned fingers off of the keys at the right time. :)

      Have a great Sunday my friend.


    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Ann, another good helpful hub. I have had a few grammar problems from time to time but I think I am improving. It is always good to read hubs like this to remind us to take care with our writing. Well written.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      6 years ago from Reno NV

      Always good to read up on grammar, mine needs the work. Well done. Jamie

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thank you so much, always exploring. 'Helpful' was my aim and your 'easy to follow' comment is the best compliment I could have. Enjoy your day! Ann

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is really helpful, i'm not ashamed to admit it. Your teaching is very easy to follow. Thank you much..


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