Howdy! My name is Lizzy, and thanks for listening in on this session of Write Right. This podcast is all about apostrophes, and hopefully I will be able to give you some good information about them. We use apostrophes in two main ways: to show that a word possesses something and to create contractions. We’ll focus on the possessives first.
Apostrophes show that a word is possessive, that it owns something. They don’t make the words possessive in themselves; the words already are, which is one of the reasons that apostrophes can be so easy to forget. They’re invisible when we speak, so we don’t often think about them. These examples of a possessive noun are pretty straightforward:
“Jack lost Jim’s dog.”
“The dog at the firm’s paperwork.”
In each case, we add an apostrophe-s to show that something possesses something else. Jim possess the dog, or at least he use to until Jack lost it. And the paperwork belongs to the firm. Simple.
Plural nouns that don’t end in “s” act much the same way. The mother belongs to the children, so we have the “children’s mother.” With nouns that do end in “s,” we place the apostrophe after the “s” instead of before it. Where are the teachers’ students? There are many teachers involved here and all of them have lost something that belongs to them- their students. Not good. Students, however, have found their way to a party belonging to the Smiths’, of which there is more than one Smith-“the Smiths’ party”—which is good for them.
Official names of things though like restaurants, or stores, or societies can go either way. Some don’t use an apostrophe, as in Mothers Café, and some do, as in McDonald’s. It depends on the name so we can’t automatically assume one way or the other; that’s up to them. In a compound noun, a noun that consists of more than one word, the apostrophe will always go after the last word. Take “The president of America’s plan” for example. President of America is one noun with three words, but the apostrophe only follows the last word to show that the whole thing is possessive. When we have two or more nouns in the same sentence that both possess the same thing, we use the same rule. Grandma and Grandpa both own the reindeer, but only Grandpa gets an apostrophe-s because he’s the last one mentioned in the series. However, the apostrophe-s here shows that the reindeer belonged to not only him, but Grandma as well. In the same way, we could talk about Donald Duck as Hewie, Dewie, and Louie’s uncle. We place the apostrophe-s only on the last noun, “Louie”, to show that Donald belongs, as an uncle, to all three of them.
Then there’s omissions. When we take something out of a phrase or out of a word, then we show that by placing an apostrophe where we deleted something. Thus, I can say that “My dad graduated in the ‘70s” instead of saying the “1970s”. I can also say “Rock’n’roll” instead of “rock and roll” if I want to.
Contractions are also considered omissions because they take out parts of words. When we condense two words into one smaller word, there is always an apostrophe involved. For example, “I am” because “I’m” and “Does not” becomes “doesn’t”.  But be careful! A lot of times we think that “it’s” is a possessive words because it has an apostrophe, but “it’s” is a contraction of “it is” instead. If “it” possesses something than it’s “its” without an apostrophe. Confusing right? It goes against the way we would normally think, but then again, we are talking about English grammar here.
Some other common errors include possessive pronouns–the pronouns that show ownership of something. They, unlike nouns like Jim, don’t need an apostrophe to indict they are showing possession; they already show it, both in speaking and in writing and don’t need any help. Thus, saying “her’s brother read her’s diary” isn’t correct. “Her brother read her diary” is correct. Well, grammatically anyway. As a rule, apostrophes are not used to show plurals. However, as this is English grammar, there are always exceptions. When we refer to a letter as if it were a letter as if it were a word, and mean those letters to be plural, then we can use an apostrophe-s to show that they are. Likewise, if we have a word in a quotation and want to make that word plural, we can do that by adding an apostrophe-s as well. Thus we have our “m’s” and “y’s” and a lot of “maybe’s.”  Well, that about sums up the basics of apostrophes. I hope that you have been able to learn something from this podcast and thanks again for listening in. Be sure to check out our other podcasts for answers to many of your other grammatical concerns. Good luck!

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.

Sitemap Login