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English, French, and Math Support: Punctuation: Apostrophes

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Punctuation: Apostrophes

Apostrophes are used to communicate possession or omission in English. This tip sheet explains basic rules governing the proper use of apostrophes.


Use 's to show possession by singular and plural nouns.

The novel's theme of redemption is complicated by several factors.

The theme belongs to the novel. Novel "possesses" theme, and thus "novel's" is a possessive noun.

Compare the following sentences:

The soldiers' sobs contributed to the sense of hopelessness.

(There are several soldiers sobbing in the above sentence.)

The soldier's sobs contributed to the sense of hopelessness.

(There is only one soldier sobbing in the above sentence.)

If the singular noun ends in an -s, a second s after the apostrophe is sometimes omitted.

Rita is Otis's wife.     OR     Rita is Otis' wife.


Posessive pronouns never use an apostrophe.

The college is rated among the best in the country. Its reputation is outstanding among scholars.


Apostrophes also show that one or more letters have been omitted from the text. The resulting words are called contractions (meaning shortened).


It is → Its

We have → We've

They could not → They couldn't

He would have → He would've / He'd have / He'd've

Some writers might wish to write dialogue that reproduces the sounds of spoken, rather than written, English.

Written English:   Why are you running?    Excuse me, madame.    Because

Spoken English: Why're ya runnin'?    'Scuse me, ma'am.    'Cause


Contractions and spoken forms are not generally used in academic writing.


  1. For each sentence below, indicate whether the apostrophe use is correct or incorrect.
    1. My key's were stolen.
    2. The book's pages were dirty.
    3. The book's and newspapers were dirty.
    4. They are Shakespeare's last play's.
    5. Laura tell's her family about her plan, and her mother objects to it.
  2. Read the paragraphs below, and find all errors of possession or omission. Then, correct the errors.

Some scholars believe that classic fairy tales are in keeping with some feminist ideals, since there is a full range of female characters whose attitudes and abilities resist strict gender-based classifications. Admittedly, Sleeping Beauty need a rich, handsome man -- Prince Charming -- to rescue her from an evil fairys curse; there is also a Princess who is able to detect a single pea under many thick mattresses because of her pampered, privileged upbringing. However, Gretels quick thinking and physical strength allow her to save her brother Hansel from a witchs clutches, and the maiden in Rumpelstiltskin ventures into the woods and eventually outsmarts the storys namesake in order to save her sons life. Furthermore, Snow Whites and Cinderellas wicked stepmothers dark plans reveal womens capacity for evil, while figures such as the Fairy Godmother provide models of generosity and benevolence. These characters are all women, but this does not determine their qualities or abilities.

These same scholars faith in fairy tales to dispel gender-based myths extens to the stories representations of men. Surely, there are admirable male characters, such as the Woodsman in Little Red Riding Hood, whose strength and bravery allow him to save Red Riding Hood, as well as Tom Thumb, who accomplishes amazing feats even though "hes no larger than his fathers thumb". At the same time, there are examples of men who are timid and weak, such as Hansel and Gretels father, who is pressured into executing his wifes plan to abandon his young children in the woods. King Midas greed is a weakness which leads to that characters misery, and only by saving his village does Jack and the Beanstalks main character redeem himself for spending his mothers last coins on magic beans and stealing a hen that lays golden eggs. Such characters can help develop childrens perceptions of gender in positive ways by showing that a given storys characters are individuals, rather than representatives of their gender.


Punctuation: Apostrophes -- Printable format

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