Forever Grammar is a series on Forever Endeavour which will iron out all of your grammar woes. It will ensure your writing is spick and span, to match the brilliant ideas you have, and boost your confidence. We will cover everything from the basics of punctuation to the common errors in spelling. If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment, and we will always get back to you.
Apostrophes can be the bane of some writer’s lives, as they struggle with remember what needs an apostrophe and what doesn’t. So often we see signs, articles and more with a wrongly placed apostrophe, but here is your definitive guide so you know where they do and don’t belong.
A contraction is a shortened version of a word which omits letters to often changed the length and sound of the phrase, while keeping it’s meaning. When using a contraction, you use an apostrophe to replace the omitted letters. For example:
He would not = He wouldn’t
They are = They‘re
In creative writing, writers may need to use contractions to represent dialect and the voice/accent of the character. You can use apostrophe to omit letters or change the way the word would be read to emphasise this. For example:
Something = somethin‘
You all = y‘all
This is the apostrophe rule that often causes the most problems, and is an area that can lead to writers making mistakes and lacking in confidence with their grammar. The general rule is if you are talking about something that belongs to someone (therefore possessive), you use an apostrophe to show this. For example:
The man‘s hat was on the table.
As the hat belongs to the man, we use an apostrophe. Do not use an apostrophe when just writing a plural. For example:
The man had lots of hat‘s… is NOT correct
The man had lots of hats… is correct
This rule of adding ‘s works for most singular nouns, and plural nouns that don’t end in ‘s’. When using a possessive plural noun that does end in ‘s’, you only need to add the apostrophe. For example:
The students’ (multiple students) desks were clean.
If a proper noun (name, place etc.) ends in an ‘s’, there is always some confusion on whether you follow the ‘s rule, or the single apostrophe rule. Generally, you need to think about how the word would sound read aloud to help you hear. If you actively pronounce the ‘ses’ sound to emphasise the possession, you should there for write ‘s. If you do not emphasise this sound, and the pronunciation of the word does not change when you use it in this way, you can just use a single apostrophe. For example:
It was James’s first day of school.
The Beatles’ first album.
The only exception to this rule is when you use a plural proper noun that ends in ‘s’, you must always use a single apostrophe. For example:
We had a great time at the Smiths’ house.
It’s or Its?
This is a rule that can be quite confusing, based on the two rules we have already looked at. When using the word ‘it’s’ or ‘its’, you need to refer to the first rule of contractions to know whether to use an apostrophe or not. ‘It’s’ (with an apostrophe) is a contraction of the phrase ‘it is’, therefore you must use an apostrophe when using the word in this way. For example:
It’s raining outside
When using the personal pronoun ‘it’ in a possessive way, as with the second rule we looked at, you do not use an apostrophe, but just use the word ‘its’ alone. For example:
The dog at its dinner.
The easiest way to check whether to use ‘it’s’ or ‘its’ is to ask yourself if, in the context of the sentence, it can be lengthened to ‘it is’. If the answer is no, that means no apostrophe.
Apostrophes can be a pain to get right, and we hope that you can come back to this guide if you ever need to check whether you have put the apostrophe in the correct place.