The time has come for another blog post about grammar. Today, I will tackle a punctuation mark that trips up a lot of well-meaning users. The apostrophe. While it may seem like a simple mark, it gets confusing when we try to put it between the letters it and s or when we need to put it at the end of a word instead of before the s or . . . okay, so it seems to get tricky around the letter s. I’ll try to clear that up a bit.
Apostrophes have two main jobs. To show possession and to stand for missing letters or numbers. The specific rules for those two jobs are broken down below.
Apostrophes are used to show possession for singular nouns, proper nouns, abbreviations, and numbers.
- The girl’s book was nearly finished.
- Chicago’s population is decreasing.
- JFK’s family was quite involved in politics.
- Apollo 11’s anniversary is in July.
This includes names that end in s, x, or z.
- Jesus’s miracles led many people to follow him.
- Descartes’s ideas have a lasting impact today.
- The Ganges’s length is 1,569 miles. (Note: When speaking words that end with the eez sound, the s after the apostrophe is silent.)
When you have plural possessives, you simply put the apostrophe after the s and end there.
- It was the girls’ turn to play.
- We went to the Johnsons’ house for the party.
Things can get confusing when dealing with joint and compound possession. The trick is figuring out how to group the words.
If there are people that share possession, they can share the ’s.
- We met Janice and Jack’s new baby yesterday.
If there are people that do not share possession, they get their own ’s.
- We are going to try Megan’s and Jerry’s apple pies to see who really makes it better.
For compound possessives, the final element takes the ‘s.
- She wrote down her daughter-in-law’s new number.
Standing in for letters and numbers
One place where an apostrophe is always needed is in a contraction. If you are combining two words and leave out some of the letters, the apostrophe goes in their place.
- Cannot – can’t
- Did not – didn’t
- You are – you’re
Another sticky spot many people get stuck in is the trouble with its and it’s. There is a simple way to remember when to use the apostrophe.
It’s is a contraction and is short for it is. Its is possessive and shows ownership.
If you are trying to figure out whether you need the apostrophe, try replacing the word with it is. If the sentence still makes sense, use the apostrophe.
- It’s time for dinner. It is time for dinner. – Yes! The apostrophe works.
- The stopwatch stopped on it’s own. The stopwatch stopped on it is own. – No, the apostrophe doesn’t work here. Correct: The stopwatch stopped on its own.
When dealing with numbers, people get confused about when and where the apostrophe should go. The general rule for when to use one is to only put it where you have removed some of the numbers. If you haven’t taken anything out, there is no need for the apostrophe.
- She likes music from the ’50s.
- There were three women in their 90s dancing at the wedding.
Hopefully you now feel confident enough to go out into the world and place your apostrophes where they belong! If you have questions or requests for future grammar tips, let me know in the comments!