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Punctuation Made Easy – Apostrophes

If you have a weird obsession with apostrophes and have found yourself correcting chalk boards in Japanese bars while on holiday (err… just me, then?) then this blog isn’t for you. The purpose of this piece is to run through apostrophe rules for writers who need a little support brushing up on punctuation rules as they set about proof reading and editing their work.

Now, before I go any further, can I make a plea? If you spot punctuation mistakes in this blog then please be kind! I, like many of you, am not perfect…


Apostrophe Rules

1. Apostrophe of possession/ownership


The rule is: If there is a single noun/object (one of them) and something belongs to it, the rule is add ’s to show ownership.


The rule in use:

The car belonging to Mum = Mum’s car

The pen belonging to Adam = Adam’s pen

The tail belonging to the cat = the cat’s tail

The rule continued: If the noun/object ends in an ‘s’ (but there is still one of them) then the same rule is used. However, many people prefer to add just the apostrophe (instead of ‘s) as it looks cleaner. The latter is what I have chosen to use in my books when a character’s name ends in s, for example, Mags – Mags’ flight to safety (but I could have written Mags’s).

Activity 1. Your turn (yes, this is like school! 😁). Find the answers at the end.

  1. One doctor = the doctor’s bag.

  2. One Mrs Simpson = ___________garden.

  3. One John = _________ ball.

  4. One Juliet = _________ sweets.

  5. One dog = The _______bowl.


But what if the object is a plural (more than one)?


Rule: If there is more than one noun (plural) then we just add the apostrophe at the end, after the s.


The rule in use:

100 girls/100 boys = The girls’ toilets are usually nicer than the boys’.

Several students = The students’ football team played a great game.

20 teachers = The teachers’ Christmas party was a great success.

Activity 2. Your turn... school continues. Find the answers at the end.

  1. Seven cats have seven tails = The cats’ tails.

  2. Three dancers = The ­­­­­­­________ shoes.

  3. Two friends = The _________ secret.

  4. Four monkeys = The __________ acrobatics.

  5. Two tables = The _________ legs.

To summarise:

You have covered the two different ways you use an apostrophe to signal ownership.

  1. For a single noun/object add ’s to show ownership even if the noun ends in s (but you can, as many do, just add the apostrophe at the end, after the s as it looks neater;

  2. For plural noun/object we add an apostrophe after the s that makes the word a plural.

For fun: can you identify what is wrong with these signs?

And the poor owner of this tattoo…?


Apostrophe Rule

2. Apostrophe of omission

The rule is: Use an apostrophe to show where a letter or letters are missed out (omission).

The rule in use:

isn’t = is not

can’t = can not

you’re = you are

Activity 3. Answers at the end.

Who is there? = Who’s there?

I would like… =

I cannot swim. =

I had no idea. =

I am the best. =

If you struggle with apostrophes I would add that while breaking them down into these little exercises makes it seem really easy, life is never that straight forward. Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle!

Some useful points to be aware of:

  • Apostrophes are never used for plurals, e.g., 1 cat – 2 cats NOT 2 cat’s.

  • Apostrophes are never used for possessive pronouns, for example, whose, ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs.

Our (possessive) vs. you’re (you are) Their (possessive) vs. they’re (they are) Lets (verb) vs. let’s (let us) Whose (possessive) vs. who’s (who is)


Special mention: its & it’s

While these two sound the same they mean something very different. Its is possessive. It’s is a contraction of it is.


  • If this blog has been helpful to you, why not read about paragraphing rules?


Apostrophe Activity 1 answers:

  1. One doctor = the doctor’s bag.

  2. One Mrs Simpson = Mrs Simpson’s garden.

  3. One John = John’s ball.

  4. One Juliet = Juliet’s sweets.

  5. One dog = The dog’s bowl.

Apostrophe Activity 2 answers:

  1. Seven cats have seven tails = The cats’ tails.

  2. Three dancers = The dancers’ shoes.

  3. Two friends = The friends’ secret.

  4. Four monkeys = The monkeys’ acrobatics.

  5. Two tables = The tables’ legs.

Apostrophe of Omission Activity 3 Answers

  1. Who’s there?

  2. I’d like it.

  3. I can’t swim.

  4. I’d no idea.

  5. I’m the best.

Some sites that can help you further with proof reading and the apostrophe include:

https://proofreadingpal.com/proofreading-pulse/writing-guides/common-apostrophe-errors/

https://www.oxbridgeediting.co.uk/blog/funny-grammar-mistakes-apostrophes/

Good luck with your writing!

Beth.

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