The apostrophe has several uses. It can be used to signify possession, missing letters (in contractions), and it used for special plurals.
We’ll look at possessives first.
The toy belongs to Alfie.
It is Alfie's toy.
The eyes of the boy are blue.
The boy's eyes are blue.
In each of these cases, the second sentence uses the possessive case. The noun (toy/eyes) are connected to someone (Alfie/the boy). The apostrophe is telling us that the subject of the sentence (toy/eyes) belong to someone.
Possessive pronouns (ie his, hers, theirs, its, yours) do not take apostrophes.
So we would say:
This book is yours.
This wallet is hers.
This book is your’s.
This book is her’s.
Some possessives can cause confusion, such as its, but we’ll discuss this is a bit. Right now, we’ll look at another use of apostrophes.
Apostrophes can also be used to show that a letter is missing, so we use them for contractions.
I do not want lunch.
I don't want lunch.
In the second sentence, we have contracted the two words, do and not, into a single word, don't. Because we have removed the o from not, we put an apostrophe in place of it, to show that a letter is missing.
The word its/it's is a humdinger for tripping people up because sometimes it has an apostrophe, and sometimes it doesn't. The possessive case does not have the apostrophe, but the contraction of it is does.
The dog is in its kennel.
It's at the end of the garden.
In the first sentence, the its is a possessive, telling us that the kennel belongs to the dog. Although possessives usually take an apostrophe - this is the exception to that rule.
In the second sentence, we are saying the kennel is at the end of the garden, but using the pronoun it instead of The kennel. In effect, we are saying The kennel is at the end of the garden, but instead we have chosen to say It's (or It is) at the end of the garden.
If you are uncertain which one to use, try substituting it is to see if the sentence still makes sense.
It is raining outside.
It’s raining outside.
This makes sense both ways. That means we are using it’s as a contraction of it is, so we use the apostrophe to represent the missing letter.
Every dog has its day.
Every dog has it is day.
The second sentence does not make sense, so here we are using its as a possessive. No apostrophe.
Similarly, watch out for whose and who’s. They are not interchangeable. When we want to ask a question regarding possession, we use whose.
Whose bag is that?
When we want to ask a question about a person, we use who’s. Remember that the apostrophe here is used for a contraction of who is.
Who’s at the door?
If you are uncertain which one to use, try substituting who is for whose/who’s to see if the sentence still makes sense.
Who is bag is this?
The above doesn’t make sense, so we know we need the possessive whose.
Who is at the door?
The above makes sense, so we can use the contracted version who’s.
The third use of apostrophes is for special plurals. Usually, when we want to create the plural of a noun, we simple add a s. There are exceptions, such as mouse and mice, child and children, but the standard plural in English is to add an s.
Apostrophes are used for the plural of letters, numbers, and abbreviations. For example:
You had better mind your p’s and q’s.
He writes m’s instead of n’s.
He was born in the 1960’s.
She has a huge pile of 45’s.
Note: It is becoming increasingly common to drop the apostrophe for the plural of numbers, so the above sentences could also be written:
He was born in the 1960s.
She has a huge pile of 45s.
Our constituency has two MP’s.
This area is reserved for VIP’s.
Again, however, the use of apostrophes here is becoming less common, so you can also write:
Our constituency has two MPs.
This area is reserved for VIPs.
But do remember that apostrophes are not used for normal plurals. So you would write:
Records for sale.
Record’s for sale.
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