Language

La Trobe University

Language

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University

Language

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University

Language

Achieve@Uni

Punctuation

Apostrophes

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.

 

2.Possessives

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’

singular

            There are two options when forming the possessive with a singular noun that ends in an ‘s’ sound:

                        It was Charles’ house

                        or

                        It was Charles’s house

             Both forms are correct.

plural

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)

                        or

                        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.

 

Apostrophe Activity 1

Complete each noun phrase below with the correct possessive noun from the dropdown menu.

EXAMPLE:

The strength of the athlete

 

EXAMPLE:

The athlete's strength

 
1. The result of the study The result

2. The results of the studies

The results
3. The efficacy of the medication The efficacy

4. The rights of everybody

The rights
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
Check
Reset

Apostrophe Activity 2

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.

Re-start

Semicolons ( ; )  adapted from Oshima, A. and  Hogue A. (2006). Writing Academic English (4th ed). NY: Pearson Longman pp283-283.

Using semicolons is not difficult if you remember that a semicolon is more like a full-stop than a comma. It is a very strong punctuation mark and should not be overused. There are three main ways in which semicolons are used:

  1. between two independent clauses that are closely connected 
  2. before some connectors and phrases when they are followed by an independent clause 
  3. between items in a list where commas have already been used.

1. Between independent clauses

A semicolon can be used between two independent clauses where the writer wants to stress the connection in meaning. Note that a full-stop could also be used but the writer has chosen the semicolon to emphasise the link.

  • For all he knew, his wife might be dead and buried by this time. He would probably never see her again but end his days where he was. Well they wouldn't be many; this was not a place that made old bones. (Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony)
  • Elephant have been known to cover the corpses of dead elephants with leaves and branches, whereas they do not cover sleeping elephants; they have a concept of death. (Grovier, T. (1997) A Practical Study of Argument (4th ed)
  • The seeds could not be used; they had sprouted.

2. Before some connectors and phrases

Some connectors (called conjunctive adverbs) such as: sohowever, therefore, moreover, furthermore, can start a new sentence. If they are used to join two independent clauses in the one sentence, a semi-colon is required before the connector and a coma after:

  • The density of PYY cells is generally decreased in sporadic IBS (table 1.1 and figure 1.4); however, whether this increases food intake and appetite in IBS patients remains to be established. (Watson, R. R. (2014). Nutrition in the Prevention and Treatment of Abdominal Obesity)
  • The intention behind the regulations was that there be a segregated account for each customer; however, the regulations were so poorly drafted that it was unclear on what terms this trust was to operate. (Hudson, A. (2014). Great Debates in Equity and Trust)
  • Jane Austen grants each of her characters a distinctive and subtly constructed voice; indeed, they are carefully distinguished by their speech.

The same rule applies to transitional phrases such as for instance, for example, that is, in fact, as a result. The semicolon precedes and  the coma follows:

  • Most Australian languages have about twenty distinctive sounds (or 'phonemes'); that is, about twenty letters are needed in an ideal alphabet. (Dixon R. (1980). The Languages of Australia)
  • It is the misuse of language that most distinguishes Jane Austen's characters; for example, the inability of Lucy Steele to use language properly is a mark of her moral confusion.

3. Between items in a complicated list

Semicolons are used to distinguish items in a list if some of those items already contain comas:

  • Among the minor characters in Emma that populate the village of Highbury are Mrs Goddard who runs the school in which Harriet Smith boards; Robert Martin, the respected young farmer who wants to marry Harriet; and Mr and Mrs Cole, the tradespeople who are determinedly making their way into Highbury society. 
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