An apostrophe is a punctuation symbol that indicates possession, or is used to form contractions.
Contractions are words formed by abbreviating or combining other words. When you make a contraction, the apostrophe is added to the spot where missing letters used to be, indicating that cut.
Apostrophes are also used in possession, which indicates that something in the sentence belongs to something else in the sentence.
For this purpose, the apostrophe connects the “s” to the possessor, as in these sentences:
This apostrophe with the “s” is the correct way to indicate possession when the possessor is singular and when the word doesn’t itself end in “s,” or when the plural form is irregular, such as “geese,” “their,” or more commonly, “children.”
Using this apostrophe “s” makes your writing more concise, as you don’t have to write out “The bone of the dog was buried.”
If, however, the possessor does end in an “s” or is plural, then you have to use the apostrophe differently. In that case, the apostrophe will come after the “s” that was already there.
See that there is still an “s” and still an apostrophe? They’re simply in a slightly different order. Because the English language can be a little temperamental, there are also times when adding an apostrophe “s” to the end of a word is necessary, even when the word ends in “s.”
Sometimes, however, you will use these apostrophes to help readers understand the differences between words that are plural, possessive, both, or just end in “s.”
For instance, there is a big difference between these two sentences:
In the former, there is one cat and one set of whiskers to think about. In the latter, there are multiple cats and multiple sets. You can see then that there are many times when a word will be plural and have an “s” at the end, but won’t be possessive.
2a. Exception for Possessive Pronouns
Possessive pronouns are a kind of personal pronoun; personal pronouns are English pronouns that identify gender, person, number, and case.
The possessive ones, such as his, hers, her, their, theirs, our, ours, my, it, and its, indicate personal ownership. Notice how none of those uses an apostrophe. Possessive pronouns never do.
If you find yourself in the proofreading stage of the writing process, you will want to look for incorrect use of possessive pronouns, such as when an apostrophe is added incorrectly.
To better spot errors of usage, it’s helpful to look at how apostrophes might work in the context of a piece of writing.
You probably noticed that there are no apostrophes here. Where do they belong? Start by highlighting all the words that end in “s”:
Do any of these words need apostrophes? These words are all plural, not possessive:
You’ll notice that they indicate amounts of people or things, so none of them get an apostrophe.
What about these words?
For these, ask yourself whether they own or belong to anything in their sentences. Here, the tutor owns the skills, so this is possessive and needs an apostrophe:
Here, the student will own the confidence and performance, so give each an apostrophe:
Here, the teacher has a schedule that’s overfull, so this schedule belongs to the teacher:
And here, the help belongs to the tutor:
In all of those spots, you need apostrophes. Just remember that plural words that are not possessive do not ever need apostrophes. It’s as simple as that.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Martina Shabram.
A punctuation symbol that indicates possession or is used to form contractions.
English pronouns that identify gender, person, number, and case.
Indicates that something in the sentence belongs to something else in the sentence.