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Apostrophes have two main uses: to indicate possession and to indicate contractions. Most difficulties occur with the first use or with using the apostrophe to form regular plurals.

Change: Janets new car has several energy-saving feature's.
to: Janet's new car has several energy-saving features.

"Janet's" needs an apostrophe to show that the car belongs to her, but since nothing is possessed by the "feature's," that apostrophe is misleading and should be deleted.

1. Indicating Possession. Strictly speaking, the relationship of possession is the relationship of ownership. In writing, this relationship is indicated by adding an 's to show singular possession and to show plural possession when the standard plural form doesn't end in s. Possessives of plurals that end in s are formed by adding just the apostrophe.

Singular possessives: the boy's hands, the heart's heat, the dog's fleas, Monday's paper, the bass's scales, Charles's snowshoes.

Plural possessives: the boys' hands, the dogs' fleas, the basses' scales, the geese's honking, the women's caucus, the mice's holiday.

Notice that while possession often includes ownership, it sometimes does not. For example, while Charles clearly owns his snowshoes, it's less clear that the dog owns its fleas. In fact, the fleas may think they own the dog. Still, granting the absence of legal ownership, we can say that the dog "has" fleas. But what about Monday's paper? The paper is not possessed by a day of the week. Yet we consider it to be the "paper of Monday" just as the fleas are "the fleas of the dog." Somehow they go together. That's what the apostrophe shows us.

2. Indicating Contractions. The apostrophe can also indicate that letters have been left out of a word or that numbers have been dropped from a date. Notice that the apostrophe goes in the place that the letters or numbers have been removed from, not at the spot where the two contracted words are joined together.

Change: You shouldnt go into that.
or: You should'nt go into that.
to: You shouldn't go into that.

Further examples:

Most members of the class of 2004 can't imagine what it was like to go to school in the 1930's.

'04 was a good year for me, but I wouldn't want to live it over again.


A Special Case

One word that doesn't conform to the guidelines above is "its." Because the word is used so frequently, it's worth learning its ways. When "its" is a contraction for "it is," it takes an apostrophe. When "its" indicates possession, no apostrophe is used.

Change: Its a shame that it's wings were damaged.
to: It's a shame that its wings were damaged.

The first "its" is a contraction for "it is." The second is a possessive and therefore needs no apostrophe.



4.21 Edit the following sentences for apostrophes.

a. The cookie's Bobs mother made tasted like baking soda.

b. Thats what happen's when she lets the kid's help.

c. The snow's crust had been broken in several place's.

d. If youre looking for Patti, shes down at the Womens Crisis Center.

e. Todays newspaper brought more conflicting reports on the hostages' release.

f. Its not its color that I object to. Its its strange shape.

g. Those boys hand's were caked with clay from the mines entrance.