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Rules for Apostrophes

Rules for apostrophes!

There are only a few, and they are simple.

Rule 1. If the word is simply a plural, it does not need an apostrophe. Ever. For example, the plural of CD is CDs, not CD’s. The plural of DVD is DVDs, not DVD’s. The plural of seafood is seafoods, not seafood’s. The plural of tomato is tomatoes, not tomato’s.

That is the first rule. No apostrophes for plurals!

 

Apostrophes are used to tell the reader one of two things; ownership (sometimes called possession) and contraction. Let’s look at ownership first. This is rule two.

Rule 2. If a dog has a bone, then it is the dog’s bone. If a boy has a football, it is the boy’s football. If a girl has ten tractors, they are the girl’s tractors.

But what if there is more than one girl? Then they would be the girls’ tractors (with the apostrophe after the ‘s’). If there was more than one boy, it would be the boys’ football.

When more than one person owns something, the apostrophe comes after the ‘s’ at the end of the word. The ‘s’ in those words is just the normal plural (more than one) ‘s’. The apostrophe comes after the ‘s’ to show there is more than one owner.

So that is rule number two, and it is also easy. If you read “The boy’s toy,” that tells you there is one boy who owns one toy. If you read “The boy’s toys,” there is one boy who owns lots of toys. If you read “The boys’ toys,” (with the apostrophe after the ‘s’ in boys) there are lots of boys who own lots of toys.

English is a wonderfully precise language. Apostrophes are one of the tools that help us to express what we mean with a clarity that is often not possible in other languages.

Rule 3. Apostrophes show where missing letters should be. Sometimes we put two words together to make one word, and then take some letters out to make the new word shorter. An apostrophe shows where the missing letter or letters used to be. For example, can not becomes can’t. I am becomes I’m. Do not becomes don’t. I would becomes I’d.

This is also a very straightforward rule. If you put two words together to make one word, and take a letter or letters out to make the new word shorter, you use an apostrophe to show where the missing letters were.

There are a few contractions that don’t make a lot of sense. For example, “Will not” becomes “Won’t.” You just have to learn these as you come across them. But there aren’t very many, so they are nothing to worry about.

There is only one other thing to remember, and that is distinguishing between its and it’s. We can call this rule four.

Rule 4. “It’s” (with an apostrophe) always means “It is.” Always. If you are tempted to write “it’s,” ask yourself “Do I mean ‘It is’?”

I’ll say that again. “It’s” always means “It is.”

“Its” (without an apostrophe) is a possessive pronoun, like his, yours, mine. It shows ownership. When you talk about an “it” owning something, for example, “The dog ate its bone,” you do not need an apostrophe. If you did put an apostrophe in that sentence “The dog ate it’s bone,” you would be saying “The dog ate it is bone,” which doesn’t make any sense. “It’s” always means “It is.” Always.

So that is easy too. “Its” (without an apostrophe) means that “it” owns whatever comes after; “Its bone,” “Its blanket.”

“It’s” (with an apostrophe) means “It is.”

So there you are. Six hundred words, and you know everything you will ever need to know about apostrophes!