Apostrophes often cause writers a great deal of anxiety. Indeed, some writers avoid their use altogether for fear of misusing apostrophes. Spend just a little time on this section, read the explanations, complete the exercises and you will become an expert on the use of apostrophes.
Apostrophes are used for two main reasons:
1.Missing letters (contractions or shortening)
Apostrophes indicate that a letter or letters have been left out of a word to shorten it. These are called contractions:
do not > don’t
is not > isn’t
you are > you’re
it is > it’s
NOTE: Contractions are never used in formal academic writing. They are only used in speech and informal texts.
It is in using apostrophes to indicate the possessive (ownership) that writers have the biggest problems. Possessive apostrophes indicate a ‘belonging to’ or ‘of’
the girl’s father (the father of the girl)
Charles’s shoes (the shoes belonging to Charles)
the hospital’s policy (the policy of the hospital)
the school’s curriculum (the curriculum of the school)
The possessive apostrophe is placed after the completed word to indicate ownership.
a) Singular nouns (only one)
For singular nouns, this means the apostrophe is placed after the noun and before the possessive ‘s’.
the boy’s attitude the university’s entrance requirements
David’s books my sister’s house
b) Plural nouns (more than one)
For plural nouns, this means the apostrophe is placed after the completed plural noun form.
the boys’ attitude the universities’ entrance requirements
NOTE 1: Those nouns that form the plural with something other than an 's' (irregular nouns) also take the apostrophe after the completed plural noun form. This means the apostrophe is before the 's'.
the Country Women’s Association
the people’s choice
NOTE 2: The apostrophe has nothing to do with the formation of the plural.
✓ pies and pasties ✗ pie’s and pastie’s
✓ girls and boys ✗ girl’s and boy’s
This rule applies even with acronyms or numbers.
✓ USBs ✗ USB’s
✓ the 1990s ✗ the 1990’s
c) Nouns already ending in ‘s’
There are two options when forming the possessive with a singular noun that ends in an ‘s’ sound:
It was Charles’ house
It was Charles’s house
Both forms are correct.
For plural nouns ending in an ‘s’ sound, there are again two options. In the case of a family called Charles, we can identify their house thus:
the Charles house (here Charles is used as an adjective not a noun)
the Charlses’ house (Charles' house would be the singular form)
d) Possessive pronouns
Hers, yours, theirs, ours and its do not take a possessive apostrophe. However, the apostrophe is used in one’s, someone’s, everybody’s, nobody’s.
NOTE: the use of an apostrophe in it’s indicates a letter is missing: it’s always means it is.
Complete each noun phrase below with the correct possessive noun from the dropdown menu.
The strength of the athlete
The athlete's strength
|1. The result of the study||The||result|
2. The results of the studies
|3. The efficacy of the medication||The||efficacy|
4. The rights of everybody
|5. The policy of the university||The||policy|
|6. The policies of the universities||The||policies|
|7. The role of the United States||The||role|
|8. The value of something||The||value|
|9. The death of her mother-in-law||The||death|
|10. The agenda of the committee||The||agenda|
|11. The results of the exam||The||results|
|12. The experience of the applicant||The||experience|
|13. The essays of the student||The||essays|
|14. The essays of the students||The||essays|
The paragraph below contains no apostrophes - although it should. Choose the correct word from the options below.
Neither family approved of Georges career choice. They thought that catching butterflies was less than the ideal vocation. Peoples attitudes towards work differ and its not always easy to determine what makes for an individuals job satisfaction. The pursuit of butterflies can bring much pleasure and its attraction for George lay in its exoticism. The butterflys beauty and its elusiveness also provided George with his greatest moments of pleasure. Neither his mother-in-laws wealth nor his fathers threats could change Georges mind. Even Uncle James opinion that he would end up being eaten by a green anaconda in the Amazonian jungle did not deter him. The families attitude only made Georges resolve stronger. A butterfly catcher was what he wanted to be.
Neither family approved of George's Georges' career choice. They thought that catching butterflies was less than the ideal vocation. People's Peoples' attitudes towards work differ and it's its not always easy to determine what makes for an individual's individuals' job satisfaction. The pursuit of butterflies can bring much pleasure and it's its attraction for George lay in it's its exoticism. The butterflies' butterfly's beauty and it's its elusiveness also provided George with his greatest moments of pleasure. Neither his mother-in-laws' mother-in-law's wealth nor his fathers' father's threats could change George's Georges' mind. Even Uncle James's James' opinion that he would end up being eaten by a green anaconda in the Amazonian jungle did not deter him. The families' family's attitude only made Georges' George's resolve stronger. A butterfly catcher was what he wanted to be.
Some people believe that the Government should play a bigger role in establishing a housing policy for the homeless; many others disagree.