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Apostrophes and the Possessive Form

Apostrophes and the Possessive Form

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Author: Gavin McCall
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This lesson explains how to use apostrophes, particularly to indicate possession.

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Welcome to English composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? We're going to learn all about apostrophes and the possessive form. And then, we'll look at some other uses writers have for apostrophes.

Apostrophes, as common as they are, are often misunderstood. And because of this, they're just as often misused. Apostrophes are a type of punctuation that's most commonly used to indicate ownership of something. When they're used this way, they're called possessive apostrophes. Generally, writers indicate that a noun owns an object by adding an apostrophe and the letter s. However, it can get a little more complicated than that. And here's where writers sometimes make mistakes.

When the noun being given possession is plural, we add the apostrophe and the s anyway. So instead of "They played the childrens game," we write, "They played the children's game." And if there are two nouns being given joint possession, we only change the second one in the list. Thus, the sentence "We went to Lewis and Olivers house" should be written "We went to Lewis and Oliver's house." And if we have a singular noun that ends with an s, we still use the apostrophe and another s. So the sentence "I totalled my bosses car" should be written "I totalled my boss's car." But if we're writing about a plural noun that ends with an a, we should only use an apostrophe. So the sentence "The dog ate both of the cats food" should be written like this-- "The dog ate both of the cats' food."

Now, we should take a moment to note that not all nouns ending in s are possessive. Sometimes, that's just the way the word is spelled. So unless you intend to indicate possession, you shouldn't use an apostrophe with these nouns.

Besides indicating possession, writers also use apostrophes to show the omission of letters, as in contractions, dates, and to imitate spoken dialects or accents. For example, in the contractions "can't," "we're," and "they'll," the apostrophes indicate the omission of the missing letters in "cannot," "we are," and "they will." And when someone refers to his '57 Chevy or the big storm of '92, the apostrophes are replacing the missing numbers-- 19, in both of these cases.

And as for dialects, examples abound, particularly in fiction writing. But here are two that resemble uses I see often. "The parrot cocked its head and screeched, ''Ello!'" and "The little boy said he didn't want to go 'cause he was scared." In both of these cases, it should be fairly clear which letters are being omitted.

Apostrophes used to be required to indicate a plural on capitalized numbers, letters, and symbols, as in to refer to the decade of the 1960's. But no longer. Still, some teachers and editors prefer them to be used.

Anyway, as you can see, apostrophes have many purposes. But now that we've seen them in action, we should be well-suited to take advantage of them, and to do so correctly.

What did we learn today? We learned about apostrophes, from their possessive forms to the other uses writers put them to. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.