The apostrophe might seem like an innocuous punctuation mark, but if used incorrectly, the meaning of a word can change. Let’s review the rules for apostrophe use:
Apostrophes are used to indicate possession.
- For singular nouns that do not end in s, add ‘s.
Example: Victoria’s aunt is kind and generous.
- For singular nouns ending in s, add ‘s.
Example: James’s car is old and unreliable.
- For plural nouns ending in s, add ‘.
Example: Sea otters’ consumption of sea urchins allows kelp forests to flourish.
- For plural nouns with no s, add ‘s.
Example: His children’s eating habits had to change.
Apostrophes are used to contract two words into one word.
Example: You are going to the library after school.
You’re going to the library after school.
Example: Do not speak loudly in the library.
Don’t speak loudly in the library.
Common Contraction Mistakes
- Its vs. It’s
Correct: It’s a long, boring movie. (This is the contraction of “It is a long, boring movie.”)
Correct: The movie’s uninspiring special effects contributed to its poor performance at the box office. (The possessive its needs to be used; the poor performance belongs to the movie’s uninspiring special effects.)
- Their vs. They’re
Correct: Their house needs to be repainted. (The possessive needs to be used; the house belongs to them.)
Correct: They’re in the process of selecting new paint colors for each bedroom in the house. (This is the contraction of “They are in the process of selecting new paint colors.”)
Tip: If you are unsure about when to use a possessive or contraction, read the sentence without the contraction. If it doesn’t make sense, use the possessive!
Example: Their house needs to be repainted. vs. They’re house needs to be repainted.
(Say, “They are house needs to be repainted.” This sentence does not make sense, so the possessive needs to be used.)