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GRAMMAR | Homonyms - Word Pairs - Apostrophe - Its/It's - Whose/Who's - Your/You're




The apostrophe sign is used for two very different things in English:




IMPORTANT NOTE: The apostrophe is NOT USED to indicate PLURALS in English. When you want to create a plural noun in English, you add "s" - you do NOT add an apostrophe to create the plural form of the noun.


Are you ready to test your knowledge? (Reload the page for a new question.) If you need help, read all about the rules below!



RULE ONE: Apostrophe for Possession


Singular Nouns


1.1 The "apostrophe plus s" is added to a singular noun in order to indicate possession:

  • Caesar's wife must be above suspicion.

    Caesar's wife = the wife of Caesar

  • The last straw breaks the camel's back.

    the camel's back = the back of the camel


1.2.  You DO add "apostrophe plus s"  to singular nouns which end in s or x. It is also possible to omit the apostrophe in these instances but, believe me, you will save yourself a lot of trouble if you consistently use the apostrophe in these cases, just as for other singular nouns. (See Rule 1.3 below and you will realize how confusing things can get!)

  • You're putting Hercules's boots on a baby.

    Hercules's boots = the boots of Hercules

  • It is a silly goose that comes to the fox's sermon.

    the fox's sermon = the sermon of the fox


Plural Nouns 


1.3 The apostrophe BY ITSELF is added to a plural noun to indicate possession, IF the plural ends in s:

  • Cowards' weapons neither cut nor pierce. 

    cowards' weapons = the weapons of cowards

  • By others' faults, wise men correct their own.

    others' faults = the faults of others


1.4  If the plural does NOT end in s, then you add "apostrophe plus s," just as for a singular noun:

  • It's easy to know people's faces, not their hearts.

    people's faces = the faces of people

  • The children's teacher learns more than the children do.

    the children's teacher = the teacher of the children


RULE TWO: Apostrophe for Contraction


The apostrophe is also used to replace a missing letter or letters in a contraction. There are many of these contractions in English. Contrary to what you may have been taught, it is perfectly acceptable to use contractions in formal writing.


WATCH OUT. There are two places where people run into trouble with contractions. The most common problem is being able to recognize the difference between apostrophe-plus-s used for possession (as discussed above), as opposed to when it is being used in a contraction. Another common problem is the fact that the spellchecker cannot always help you with contractions, because the contraction may be a homonym pair with another English word. Both of these problems are discussed below.


2.1 Apostrophe plus S in Contractions.


You have to make sure you understand the difference between "apostrophe plus s" when it indicates possession and "apostrophe plus s" when it indicates contraction. They look exactly the same, so you have to use the meaning of the sentence to figure out the meaing of the apostrophe. Here are some examples of "apostrophe plus s" in contractions - and be sure to look at the page on "It's v. Its," too!

  • A picture's worth a thousand words.

    a picture's worth = a picture IS worth

  • Laughter cannot bring back what anger's driven away.

    anger's driven away = anger HAS driven away


2.2 Problems with the Spellchecker and Contractions.


If you make an error in a contraction, the spellchecker will usually be able to catch that error for you, but not always. Here are some of the contractions that the spellchecker will not be able to check for you:


  • CAN'T: This is the abbreviation for "cannot." Because the word "cant" is also in the English dictionary (even though it is not a very common word), the spellchecker will not alert you to the missing apostrophe.
  • WON'T: This is the abbreviation for "will not." Because the word "wont" is also in the English dictionary (even though it is not a very common word), the spellchecker will not alert you to the missing apostrophe.
  • LET'S: This is the abbreviation for "let us." Because the word "lets" is also in the English dictionary, the spellchecker will not alert you to the missing apostrophe.
  • IT'S v. ITS: see this separate page about the words "it's" and "its"


Here are some more resources online:


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