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Writing Tips: How To Use Apostrophes

Updated on March 18, 2014

Many people use apostrophes without quite knowing where they should go. I'm here to help you become a better writer, and the poor, abused apostrophe seemed the best place to begin.

The apostrophe may well be the most abused punctuation mark in the English language, and is admittedly a constant irritant for Grammar Nazis like myself. You should have seen the shocked disbelief on my face during my first stopover at London's Heathrow airport.

"Ahhh, England," I thought. "The birthplace of the English language, the bastion of proper English grammar, the most wonderful place in the world to.." And then I saw it. I had just been herded onto a bus that would take me to my terminal. I ended up standing in front of one of the doorways. When the glass door closed, this is what I saw emblazoned there for all to see:

"Do Not Leave Bag's In Front Of Door"

I just about had a heart attack! Actually, considering the shock, I remained fairly calm (at least on the surface.) I nonchalantly glanced around to see if anyone else noticed this grammatical faux pas. Nope! Nobody but me seemed to care that even here, is this grammatical mecca, the poor apostrophe was being mercilessly abused!

What Not To Use Apostrophes For

The number one culprit, and therefore the number one rule of apostrophe use is to never use an apostrophe to pluralize a word. The plural of any word in the English language is accomplished by simply adding an "s." Really, everyone is making it way more complicated than it is!

Source

Correct:

  • The 1980s rocked.
  • I got some new DVDs.
  • The Joneses are coming over.
  • All kids are invited to the party.
  • How many "i"s are in the word Mississippi?
  • Sale on watermelons, peaches, and apples.

Incorrect:

  • The 1980's rocked.
  • I got some new DVD's.
  • The Jones's are coming over.
  • All kid's are invited to the party.
  • How many i's are in the word Mississippi?
  • Sale on watermelon's, peache's, and apple's.

Exceptions:

  • Some would argue that to make a single letter plural you should add an apostrophe. However, this is incorrect. The accepted method is to put a quotation mark around the letter as shown above.
  • To make someone's last name plural that already ends in "s," add an "es" on the end: The Joneses, The Adamses, etc.

Contractions And Omissions

Now that we know not to put an apostrophe into the word "contractions," let's learn about how to use apostrophes to indicate where missing letters should be.

Source

A contraction is nothing more than the combination of two words into one. When writing a scientific paper, we don't use contractions--they're shortcuts in language that have developed through speech. Here are some examples of contractions (on the left is the contraction, on the right are the two words it represents):

  • Can't.......Can not
  • They'd....They would
  • They'll.....They will
  • You're......You are
  • Isn't..........Is not
  • We're.......We are
  • She's........She is
  • She's........She has
  • Who's.......Who is

Apostrophes are also used when you omit (get rid of) a letter:

  • I'm lovin' it
  • O'er the fields
  • Happily e'er after

Possession

I learned about possession the hard way. When I was about 8 years old I entered my first (and last) spelling bee. I practiced spelling all kinds of big words for weeks on end, and when the day came I was totally thrilled out of my mind (I was an English nerd even back then!)

Source

Well, it was down to me and two other kids and I was flying high--until they threw a wrench into my carefully planned shellacking. "How do you spell the word dogs in this sentence," they asked: "The two dogs' bones." It just didn't seem right for them to ask me such a stupid question. I had no freaking idea! Well, from that day on I decided to conquer the beastly possessive apostrophe, get to know it, and make it learn who's master!

The rule of thumb is if you're talking about one thing, put the apostrophe after the one thing. If you're talking about plural things, put the apostrophe after the plural things. Single (one brother): My brother's room is a mess. Plural (two brothers): The brothers' fighting needs to stop. Another way to visualize this is to say it differently to yourself. Single: My brother, his room is a mess. Plural: The brothers, they need to stop fighting.

Singular:

  • If Kate has two apples, they are Kate's apples.
  • My brother has two computers; they are my brother's computers.

Plural:

  • If both of the kids own laptops, they are the kids' laptops.
  • My students are getting good grades; the students' grades are good.

Exceptions:

  • If a word is already plural (children), treat it as a single word: The children's coats were all muddy!
  • If a last name ends in "s," add an apostrophe after their name to show possession: The Jones' dog ran away. That's the standard, but the following is also accepted: The Jones's dog ran away. Whichever method you choose, be consistent.

Apostrophe Quiz

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Wait.. It's A Trap!

There's a difference between its and it's. By now hopefully you can at least vaguely identify how they're used. Basically the only time we use an apostrophe with this word is when--did you guess it?--there is a contraction (combining two words into one.) Just to make sure, let's look at a few examples:

  • That sound? It's just the cat clawing its scratching post. Wait; that's the couch!
  • Holy mackerel, it's time to end this apostrophe lesson! Its time has come.
  • It's been fun!

Who is Starbuck, anyway?
Who is Starbuck, anyway? | Source

Copyright © 2012 Faceless39. All rights reserved.

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    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Interesting post ...Thanks

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      So glad I found your hubs - I look forward to reading all of them, and linking them whenever I can. As with you, I'm a Grammar Nazi; certain things drive me crazy! Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Faceless39 profile image
      Author

      Faceless39 6 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      Yes, Jaye, that makes you an honorary Grammar Nazi, if the term suits you. We need more people who are irked by bad grammar, in my opinion!

      Thanks everyone for the comments; I'm glad I could help!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Thanks for spreading the word about how NOT to use the apostrophe. Misuse of this punctuation mark is prevalent and one of my pet peeves. Does that make me a "Grammar Nazi", too?

    • barry1001 profile image

      barry1001 6 years ago from North Wales

      I always considered myself quite good at the English language, but this proved to be quite an eye opener!! Good hub!

    • Matt Jackson profile image

      Matt Jackson 6 years ago from UK

      It may be because it's one rule of grammar that I think I actually understand perfectly but the misuse of apostrophes does irk me. So, too, does the flagrant abuse of exclamation marks following the rise of email and text messaging.

      Another great grammar hub.

    • Faceless39 profile image
      Author

      Faceless39 6 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      @Ronhi, okay I looked around. Maybe this is more what you're looking for: http://www.jspell.com/public-spell-checker.html

      Also per your request there's a hub on how to use commas: https://hubpages.com/literature/Writing-Tips-How-T...

      Great job on earning the title of Master Chief of Apostrophes! Wooooooot! :)

    • ronhi profile image

      ronhi 6 years ago from Kenya

      @Faceless39, thanks for the link. I tried it out and it works fine except that its not as good as the commercial one i saw. All it does is give suggestions as you type but it would be great if it could allow for checking for errors in the entire document after ones finishes typing.

      and just so you know, i took the quiz and am now officially the Master Chief Of Apostrophes! Wooot! :)

    • Ochre profile image

      Ochre 6 years ago from UK

      Great hub

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      These are really good. Some of them I didn't know before. I'm glad I read through this hub.

    • Faceless39 profile image
      Author

      Faceless39 6 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      Hi Ronhi, try this out and let me know what you think. It's freeware:

      http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-spell-ch...

    • ronhi profile image

      ronhi 6 years ago from Kenya

      BY the way, do you know of a good free spell checker tool that is better than what i have in MS office? I saw one advertised by Google on this hub (grammarly.com)and it looks so powerful but it is too expensive.

    • ronhi profile image

      ronhi 6 years ago from Kenya

      cool! Thanks in advance :-)

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Very well written & most helpful. I dun know what I do with em either so I make it up as I go. Now I have a source to understand, ty. At work will be back, bookmarked, to read at home tonight - thanks!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 6 years ago from Florida

      Great Hub! When I run my spell checker it always try to correct my word "wouldn't", and "couldn't", but it suggests the same spelling. Am I right or wrong on this?? I get confused about quotation marks a lot.

    • ShellbackJack profile image

      ShellbackJack 6 years ago

      Very informative Faceless 39, please do one on exclamation points!!!!!

    • Faceless39 profile image
      Author

      Faceless39 6 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      Thanks for all the awesome feedback! I really tried to make it easy, so I'm glad that seems to be the case. If anyone is stuck on anything, please leave your questions in the comments section.

      Upon your request, Rohni, I will tackle the comma next. :)

    • profile image

      4youreyes 6 years ago

      Great hub, very well explained. Thank-you.

      Have A Good Day !

    • Julz09 profile image

      Julz09 6 years ago

      This is good quality, well worth the read.

    • brandasaur profile image

      brandasaur 6 years ago from Planet X

      I got 100% on the quiz. HAHA. I really understood the hub you wrote. Thanks for sharing! ;)

    • asmaiftikhar profile image

      asmaiftikhar 6 years ago from Pakistan

      I press the green button that is really a use ful hub.Keep it up!

    • profile image

      Mo Cee 6 years ago

      Kate's killing me with this question! Kate is killing me with this question. I still think I'm right. Sorry Kate, I ain't givin' up! "Kate's" is now a contraction: Kate is becomes Kate's, as in, "Mo's full of it!" (By the way, ain't represents two words, ey and not: ain't. I think it originated when a community of Canadians migrated to Texas early in the 19th century. It is true. :)

    • profile image

      neatstat 6 years ago

      I'm lovin' it @ McDonald :)

    • ronhi profile image

      ronhi 6 years ago from Kenya

      Wow! Am so much informed! I had no idea that you can not use contractions in scientific papers...Now i know. I think i will be reading more of your hubs because i really need to improve my grammar...am waiting to read your hub on the comma, especially how to use it in lists e.g if to use it before and or not - it always confuses me!

      Great Hub. Voted up, Useful, Awesome, beautiful, and Interesting

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