The persnickety apostrophe

by Laura Tibbetts

Apostrophes can sometimes be persnickety! If you feel that way, I hope you enjoy the following guide about when to use this lovely form of punctuation (hint: there are two main times).

THE TWO MAIN TIMES (I told you this was coming):

1. Contractionscombining two words and/or taking out letters

examples: until— ’til; you are—you’re; it is—it’s

Note: The only time there is an apostrophe in it’s is when the word is meant to be a contraction of “it is.” The possessive of the word has no apostrophe, as in this: The mouse ate its cheese.

2. Possessiveswhen something belongs to something else

  • For possessive singular nouns and proper nouns, add an apostrophe before the s

example: the cat’s hat

  • For possessive plural words ending in s, add an apostrophe after the s

example: the cats’ hats (multiple cats)

Note: For plurals like women and children, which do not end in s, add the apostrophe before the s, as in this: the children’s books

Some people get confused about what to do with words that already end in s, like Jesus or Socrates. Mostly for the sake of pronunciation, many writers will simply add an apostrophe (not another s) at the end—Jesus’ parables or Socrates’ long robe—when indicating possession.

In case you were curious, here are some examples of times not to use apostrophes:

1. With plurals (unless of course they are possessive)—for example, the plural of Monday is Mondays, not  Monday’s
2. With the pronouns his, hers, yours, or ours (and don’t forget its)
3. With who, when it is meant to be possessive—the word who’s means who is. And if you’re trying to ask who a book belongs to you would say, “Whose book is this?”

For more information, check out Purdue OWL: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/621/01/

or Writer’s Help: www.writershelp.com (search “apostrophes,” learn about apostrophes, and complete the two exercises).

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

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