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Author: Rebecca Oberg

This learning packet should review:
-Punctuation rules for apostrophes
-Common punctuation errors with apostrophes (e.g. its vs. it's, your vs. you're)

This learning packet offers a thorough look at apostrophe use, offering definitions, examples, opportunities for practice, and more. To engage a wide range of learners, the packet offers informative text, engaging video clips (one with music), and a very user-friendly slide show presentation. Come away from this packet and be an apostrophe expert!

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Apostrophes: The Basics

This slide show presentation offers memorable examples as well as clear definitions for the basic concepts related to apostrophe use.

Source:, modified by Rebecca Oberg

Five Examples of Apostrophe Use

This concise, helpful video offers five examples of when to use apostrophes. The simple video is presented in a clear, easily understood manner.

Source: YouTube

The Apostrophe: A Detailed Look at the Punctuation by Online Expert Grammar Girl

  What are Apostrophes Used for?

Apostrophes have two main uses in the English language: they stand in for something that's missing, and they can be used to make a word possessive.

Apostrophes first showed up in the 1500s as a way to indicate omissions. Today, the most common place to find this kind of apostrophe is in contractions such ascan't(for can not), that's(for that is), and it's(for it is*), but they can also be used in fun ways. If you're writing fiction, you might use apostrophes to eliminate letters to formulate a character's dialect; for example, "I saw 'em talkin' yonder,"with apostrophes to indicate that the speaker said 'eminstead of them(t-h-e-m), and talkin'instead of talking(t-a-l-k-i-n-g).

It's no wonder that people are confused about apostrophes, because new uses were introduced in the 1600s and again in the 1700s (1), and it wasn't until the mid-1800s that people even tried to set down firm rules (2).

Apostrophes Indicate Possession

One major new use for the apostrophe was to indicate possession. For example,  the aardvark's pencil, where there is an apostrophe s at the end of aardvark, means that the pencil belongs to the aardvark. It does not mean the plural of aardvark, and it does not mean "The aardvark is pencil."

An interesting side note is that it doesn't seem so strange that an apostrophe sis used to make words possessive once you realize that in Old English it was common to make words possessive by addingesto the end. For example, the possessive of foxwould have been foxes, which was the same as the plural. I assume that caused confusion, and someone suggested replacing the ewith an apostrophe to make fox'sin the possessive case. So apostrophe sfor the possessive case was initially meant to show that the e was missing, and then the idea caught on and everyone eventually forgot all about the missing e.

Common Apostrophe Errors and How to Avoid Them

Now, normally, I would assume that most people understand apostrophe basics and move on, but there are too many examples to the contrary for me to ignore them.

For some reason, people seem especially prone to apostrophe errors, and most especially people who write signs and flyers. Katy sent me the above photo of a sign in a vegetable market advertising “Banana's $1.50.” Banana's apostrophe s, as though a banana was carrying around pocket change. The apostrophe before the smakes the $1.50 a possession of one lucky banana.

I also would have given anything to have had a camera with me when I came upon a menu advertising “Ladie's Night,” L-a-d-i-e-'-s night. I'm assuming the proprietors meant “Ladies' Night,” but I have this image in my mind of the restaurant providing free entry to one particular laddie.

The bottom line is that whenever you are using apostrophes, especially if you are making signs or flyers, take a second and a third look at them to make sure you're doing it right. Do you want to make your noun possessive, or are you making a contraction?

ItsVersus It's

I want to end with an overview of the word that caused me such torment in second grade: its. Confusing the two forms of itsis a very common mistake.It'scan mean "it is"when an apostrophe is used to make a contraction, but its,i-t-s-no-apostrophe, is a possessive pronoun just like hers, ours, and yours, none of which take an apostrophe.

Every time I see those ubiquitous eBay commercials with three-dimensional its** standing in for products, I feel like the its are out to get me. So maybe that can help you remember to use special care when confronted with its. I think Amy summed it up best, saying, “Only use the apostrophe when it'sis short forit is.” It's really that simple. I-t-apostrophe-salways means "it is"; it has nothing to do with possession, no matter what those eBay commercials say about acquiring possessions.

The Apostrophe Song
Apostrophe (Oh Christmas Tree)

by Eileen Thorpe

Apostrophe, apostrophe
You drive me oh so batty.
Apostrophe, apostrophe
Your overuse is a travesty.
Some people just can’t get enough
They must think you’re hot stuff
Apostrophe, apostrophe
Some rules to avoid catastrophe.

It’s hers and theirs and yours and its
when you want to possess a bit
And when you need to pluralize,
You don’t need to apostrophize.
And what of words that end in esess?
An apostrophe will only make a mess’s.

I wonder why you so confuse
I’m sure you’re tired of this abuse.
Apostrophe, apostrophe
You drive me oh so batty.

What About Plural Words?

I always feel bad when the answer is that there isn't an answer, so here's an easier situation that has a firm rule: if the word ending with sis plural, such as aardvarks, then you just add an apostrophe at the end to make it possessive. For example, you could write, "The aardvarks' escape route [sapostrophe] was blocked" to indicate that a family of aardvarks needed to find another way out of danger.

Plural words that don't end with s, such as children, do take an apostrophe sat the end for possession. For example, you could write, "Fortunately, the children's room [children apostrophe s] had a hidden doorway."

Here's a tricky issue with a definite answer: how do you make the plural of a single letter, as in Mind your p's and q's?It's shocking, but you actually use the apostrophe before the s! It looks possessive, but it isn't. The apostrophe is just there to make it clear that you're writing about multiple p's and q's. The apostrophe is especially important when you are writing about a's, i's, and u's because without the apostrophe readers could easily think you are writing the words as, is, and us.

Should You Use Apostrophes with Abbreviations?

Finally, we'll end with another gray area. Brian in Toronto and a listener named Josh asked whether they should use apostrophes to make abbreviations plural. Brian gets irritated when he sees signs advertising CD's for salewith it written C-D-apostrophe-s. Gen wrote in about the same thing, feeling a sense of horror after seeing CD'swritten with an apostrophe in the New York Times. Although I share Brian and Gen's irritation and hate seeing it written that way, again, I have to admit that it's a style issue, and some books recommend putting in the apostrophe because it indicates that letters are missing**. It makes me want to let out a big “Hrumph” like Sir Fragalot, but that's the way it is.

The Apostrophe Song: Catchy and Helpful!

This entertaining, memorable song offer an engaging take on key apostrophe use rules.

Source: YouTube