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Apostrophes can serve two purposes in English writing. They can form possessives as well as contractions. Possessive words indicate possession, while contractions reveal that a few letters have been removed to form a new word using two different words.
Possessives would be impossible to form without the use of apostrophes. However, they are also the reason apostrophes seem to be so confusing. The rules for forming a possessive with the help of an apostrophe can greatly vary according to the type of noun.
Here’s a look at three different uses of the apostrophe with possessive nouns.
Use an apostrophe to convey that a single person or thing owns or is a member of another thing. In such a case, an apostrophe is used along with the letter s (‘s).
For example Sarah’s ballet dress, the man’s hat, a car’s windscreen
Remember, you do not need to be confused when a name ends with an S. You can still add ‘s after a proper noun to indicate possessiveness. Similarly, you can also just add an apostrophe after a noun ending with an S. Either way, it is acceptable.
For example: –Holmes’ car, –Holmes’s car
You do not need to add another s to a plural noun that is already ending with an S. It is quite unnecessary, so consider skipping it and only adding an apostrophe to show possessiveness.
For example: The employees’ request, The Adams’ house
To turn a plural noun that does not end with an S into a possessive, you need to add an apostrophe along with an S (‘s).
For example: The children’s toys, his teeth’s color
Remember, any noun needs to have an apostrophe and an s to become a possessive noun. If a plural noun already has an s, you can skip an additional one and add just the apostrophe. If it doesn’t have an s, you will need to add both the apostrophe and the s.
There are various style guides that you can choose from when you need to turn a singular pronoun ending with an S into a possessive pronoun. You can go for adding only an apostrophe.
For example: Brussels’ historic culture, the Dickens’ daughters
Or, another way to deal with such a situation is to add an apostrophe with an S following it.
For example: Brussels’s historic culture, the Dickens’s daughters
You can use any of the above ways to add an apostrophe to singular proper nouns ending with S. However, make sure you strictly follow a single method for the same document or writing.
Some proper nouns are already in possessive form. So, what should you do in such a situation? The basic rule of thumb for such a situation is to leave the noun as it is.
For example: McDonald’s menu
For a reminder, possessive pronouns include his, her, mine, and our, etc. However, some possessive pronouns like yours, theirs, hers, and ours can cause confusion. This is mostly because these possessive pronouns are possessives without the use of an apostrophe. In fact, adding an apostrophe to some of these types of possessive pronouns can result in the formation of contractions.
Trying to show that two people have ownership over something can be quite challenging. You may be confused about whether you should make both the pronouns or just the final one possessive. It can really just depend on the type of ownership.
If two people are equal owners of the same thing, you can add an apostrophe and an S to the latter one’s name. For example:
In case different people own different versions of the same type of items, turn all the names into possessives. For example:
It can sound quite weird when you try to show joint possessiveness for possessive personal pronouns. Here is an example to help you understand:
While this can’t be grammatically incorrect, it is best to rephrase such sentences. For example:
Contractions are a shortened form of one or more than one word. These are formed by deleting certain letters. Their relationship with apostrophes is that apostrophes replace the words that are missing. The apostrophe rule for contractions is not as confusing but rather quite simple.
You cannot form contractions if it’s not for the help of apostrophes. When you try to combine two words into a single word, you are required to take out some letters. However, that empty space cannot be left as it is but rather needs some kind of replacement.
This is where apostrophes come in handy. We add apostrophes in the places of missing letters to fill the empty space. For example:
The second last example can be used as a way to say what someone is doing in the present, such as ‘she’s cooking,’ and can also be used to describe a person with an adjective, such as ‘he’s tired.’
Similarly, the last example, which shows how to contract ‘it’ and ‘is,’ can be used where the pronoun ‘it’ is used to describe something or a situation. For example, ‘it’s a great desk,’ or ‘it’s hot outside.’
While the use of apostrophes in contractions is quite simple, there are still a few things you will need to take care of. Contractions are rather considered an informal language tool and may not be acceptable in very formally written documents.
On the other hand, there are some contractions that are rarely ever used in their un-contracted forms. For instance, ‘of the clock’ is contracted to o’clock. You will hardly ever find this example not being used as a contraction.
It is a basic recommendation to use an apostrophe and an S for single letters that need to be used as plurals.
For example: Remember to dot all your i’s.
Sometimes you may need to add an apostrophe just for clarity. This is in the case when you need to form a plural out of a word that is not a noun.
For example: Do’s and don’ts
In some cases, you may need to use time or money as a possessive adjective. Here, you may need to add an apostrophe. This is how you can do it:
For example: five days’ leave
Oftentimes, apostrophes are used before numbers and words.
For example: He was elected in ’07.
The word ‘it’s’ is a contraction for ‘it is’ the same way ‘can’t’ is a contraction for ‘cannot.’ On the other hand, you can use ‘its’ when you want to show possession.
In English punctuation, apostrophes are confusing to use, especially when you have to wonder where to add an ‘s’ or not. This is because there are numerous rules associated with their usage. Not to mention, they come with various exceptions. Fortunately, you can always get better with practice.
That means reading more to see how apostrophes are used, or if you’re trying to teach a child, opting for learning materials that can help. With practice, you’ll eventually get the hang of how the punctuation is used, as well as any exceptions that you must keep in mind.
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