Course 1: Lesson 8
Like commas, apostrophes also serve many grammatical functions. However, they are most often problematic to writers when they are used to make nouns plural, rather than possessive.
The items in the following examples belong to (or are possessed by) the nouns that precede them. Therefore, we use an apostrophe with an s to note the possession:
Mary’s dress Juan’s hat
Bill’s car Bobby’s coat
Sally’s bicycle Jill’s purse
Fred’s tie Otto’s money
Of course, if the noun already ends with an s, there is no need to add another one:
Socrates’ theory Jules’ limousine
Charles’ trumpet Jesus’ prayers
The possessor need not be human for the rule to apply:
cat’s meow dog’s collar
telephone’s ringer monster’s face
Apostrophes make things possessive, not plural. Obviously, one boy is a boy. Two boys are boys. However, suppose the boys possess things. The rule is easy. If the item belongs to a boy, it is:
the boy’s (one boy)
We use an apostrophe s to note the possession. If the item belongs to the boys, it is:
the boys’ (more than one boy)
The apostrophe follows the plural ending in s.
Look at the following examples:
the girl’s shoes the girls’ shoes
the cow’s bell the cows’ bells
clown’s costume clowns’ costumes
Of course, if the plural word does not end in s, the general rule remains the same.
We use an apostrophe s to note the possession:
the man’s belt the men’s belts
the child’s book the children’s books
It is very important to understand this concept if you wish to substantially improve your writing skills.
Do not use apostrophes to turn singular nouns into plural nouns. This is a frequent writing mistake that is easily avoided. Use apostrophes to indicate possession as shown in the examples above. Do not use apostrophes to indicate plurals. Remember the first important concept for apostrophe use. It is one of the most abused and misused concepts in writing:
Apostrophes are used to make nouns possessive; do not use apostrophes to make things plural.
If you violate this concept, you might think your readers know what you are saying – but they do not. It is virtually impossible to smoothly read what you write if you use apostrophes to make things plural.
Often apostrophes are also problematic to writers when they are used to make contractions. This is a completely different concept than possession. Writers sometimes combine two words into one word, leaving out letters. They contract verbs to form singular words. These contractions are the result of removing letters. Apostrophes are used to indicate the places where letters were removed.
I am = I’m
The a has been removed.
you are = you’re
The a has been removed.
can not = can’t
The n and o have been removed.
Special Note (Please allow one technical rule for clarity): A commonly confused word for writers is the word it’s. Do not confuse the word with its, the unique possessive form of it. The apostrophe tells us the writer of the word has formed a contraction. It’s means it is.
Its indicates possession (even though it uses no apostrophe).
It’s a nice day. = It is a nice day.
I see the car and its driver (possession).
Focus on the following simple writing concepts with respect to apostrophes and the quality of your written communications will vastly improve. If you do not, people will NOT understand your meaning when you write. It’s as simple as that. Many writers feel apostrophe use is insignificant. Although you might know what you mean, your readers will not, unless you use apostrophes properly.
Follow the apostrophe concepts presented here and your chances for success will increase drastically. In my opinion, the failure to properly use apostrophes is a major reason that everyday writers fail to communicate effectively in written form. There is nothing more annoying to a reader than the misuse of such an important part of English grammar.
Apostrophes are used to make nouns possessive, so do not use apostrophes to make things plural; Apostrophes are also used to form contractions.