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Apostrophes

Marking contractions and possessive nouns

apostrophe

 

 

Auxiliary Verb Contractions

In speech, we tend drop the vowel sounds and run our words together ("contract") in order to deliver what we have to say more quickly.

However, in business and academic writing, we write the words out fully unless we are quoting speech. In such a case, an apostrophe marks the missing vowel or consonant. 

 

 

 

Be

COMPLETE WORD CONTRACTION
1A. PRONOUN + BE  

I am  ready!
We are  ready!
He is  ready!
She is  ready!
They are  ready!
You are  ready!
It is  ready!
There are two.

I'm / I am not  ready!
We're / We aren't  ready!
He's / He isn't  ready!
She's / She isn't  ready!
They're / They aren't  ready!
You're / You aren't ready!
It's / It isn't  ready!
~There're / There aren't two. 

1B. NOUN + BE  

Jack is here.
The car is ready.

Jack's / Jack isn't here.
The car's / The car isn't ready.

Do

COMPLETE WORD CONTRACTION
2A. DO+NEGATIVE  

I do not  know
We do not  know.
He does not  know.
She does not  know.
They do not  know.
You do not  know.
It does not  know.
There does not
appear to be two.

I don't  know.
We don't  know.
He doesn't  know.
She doesn't  know.
They don't  know.
You don't  know.
It doesn't  know.
There doesn't
appear to be two.

2B. DO+NEGATIVE  

Jack does not  know.
The car does not have power.

Jack doesn't  know.
The car doesn't have power.

 

~ very informal

 

 

 

Have

COMPLETE WORD CONTRACTION
3A. HAVE—PRONOUNS  

I have  finished.
We have  finished.
He has  finished.
She has  finished.
They have  finished.
You have  finished.
It has  finished.
There have
been two.

I have / haven't  finished.
We have / haven't  finished.
He has / hasn't  finished.
She has / hasn't  finished.
They have / haven't  finished.
You have / haven't  finished.
It has / haven't  finished.
There have
been two.

 

3B. HAVE—NOUNS  

Jane has been here.
The car has been washed.

Jane's been here.
The car's left.

Had

COMPLETE WORD CONTRACTION
4A. HAD—PRONOUNS  

I had  finished.
We had  finished.
He had  finished.
She had  finished.
They had  finished.
You had  finished.
It had  finished.
There had
better be more.

 

I'd / I hadn't  finished.
We'd / We hadn't  finished.
He'd / He hadn't  finished.
She'd/ She hadn't  finished.
They'd / They hadn't  finished.
You'd / You hadn't finished.
It'd / It hadn't finished.
There'd
  better be more. 

4B. HAD—NOUNS  

Jack had finished.
The car had stopped.

 

~Jack'd/ Jack hadn't finished.
~The car'd stopped. unusual

 

~ very informal

 

 

 

Will

COMPLETE WORD CONTRACTION
5A. WILL—PRONOUNS  

I will  attend.
We will  attend.
He will  attend.
She will  attend.
They will  attend.
You will  attend.
It will  attend.
There will
be two.

I'll / I won't  attend.
We will / We won't  attend.
He will / He won't  attend.
She will / She won't  attend.
They will / They won't  attend.
You will / You won't  attend.
It will / It won't  attend.
There will / There won't
been two.

5B. WILL—NOUNS  

Jane will attend.
The car will be ready.

~Jane'll go.
~The car'll be ready. unusual

Would

COMPLETE WORD CONTRACTION
6A. WOULD—PRONOUNS  

I would  like more.
We would  like more.
He would  like more.
She would  like more.
They would  like more.
You would  like more.
It would  like more.
There would
be more.

 

I'd / I woudn't  like more.
We'd / We woudn't  like more.
He'd / He woudn't  like more.
She'd/ She woudn't  like more.
They'd / They woudn't  like more.
You'd / You woudn't like more.
It'd / It woudn't like more.
There'd
/ woudn't be more. 

6B. WOUD—NOUNS  

Jack had like more.
The car had better be ready.

~Jack'd/ Jack hadn't like more.
~The car'd better be ready. unusual

 

~ very informal

 

 

 

Modals

COMPLETE WORD CONTRACTION
7A. MODALS  

We cannot  go.
We will not  go.
We may not  go.
We shall not  go.
We might not  go.
We would not  go.
We should not  go.
We must not  go.

We can't  go.
We won't  go.
We mayn't go. rarely ever used
We shan't go. rare
We mightn't  go. rare
We wouldn't  go.
We shouldn't  go.
We mustn't  go.

Questions

COMPLETE WORD CONTRACTION
8A. QUESTIONS  

Who is  coming?
Where is  he going?
How is  she feeling?
What is  it called?
When is  it starting?
Why is  it running?
Whose is it?

~Who's  coming?
~Where's  he going?
~How's  she feeling?
~What's  it called?
~When's  it starting?
~Why's  it running?
Whose is it?
But not normally with 're (are).   

 

~ very informal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apostrophes

In word contractions

 

 

 

FULL FORM

In business and academic English, words are not usually written using contractions unless one is quoting speech.

Good morning, Madam.   Title of respect, esp. for royalty.

Let us go.   rarely used 

We are going to leave pretty soon.

We are not going anywhere.

Let us rock and roll.   (Shall we)

We are singing in the rain.

There are a few (things to) do and not do.

Wait until I get there.

It is time to leave.

CONTRACTION

An apostrophe marks an omitted letter (a contraction) when quoting informal speech.

Good morning, Ma'am

Let's go.   suggestion Let's not(also Let's don't.)

We're goin' to leave pretty soon. (sometimes written as we're gonna.)

We ain't goin' anywhere.  informal and colloquial

Let's rock 'n' roll.

We're singin' in the rain.  (song)

There are a few dos and don'ts.   doesn't

Wait 'til I get there.

'tis time to leave.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apostrophes

Possessives

Me / We

 

 

 

 

Possessives for common nouns

SINGULAR

For most singular nouns, we add an apostrophe and the letter s.  See sources below regarding nouns ending is -s.

2a. SINGULAR NOUNS

apostrophe SMy friend's computer
My supervisor's computer
The car's computer
One's computer   (impersonal pronoun)     

2c.  SINGULAR COMMON NOUNS FOLLOWED BY -S

apostrophe S¹The class' soccer team.  (traditional punctuation¹)

The class's team. (MLA 3.2.e7)  (CMOS 7.18) (AP 323)

BUT: The class' soccer team  when the possessive is followed by a word starting with s(AP 323)

My boss's office
The gas's odor  

2d. EXCEPT:  NOUNS PLURAL IN FORM BUT SING. IN MEANING

 S apostropheEconomics' / mathematics' / linguistics' contribution
The series'  first game

for righteousness'goodness'  / Jesus' sake

 

PLURAL

For most plural words ending in -s,  the apostrophe is placed after the letter s.

2b. PLURAL NOUNS

 S apostropheMy parents' computer
My aunts' computer
My friends' computer
My puppies' paws  

 

 

 

2e.  EXCEPT: NOUNS SING. IN FORM BUT PLURAL IN MEANING

apostrophe SThe children's / men's / women's soccer team
The people's vote
The sheep's / deer's / moose's / oxen's / fish's eyes…
The alumni's contributions

 

¹Formerly, an apostrophe was used after a final -s. However, new rules simplify forming possessives. Most possessives are formed with 's

 

 

 

Possessives for proper nouns

SINGULAR

apostrophe SFor most singular nouns, we add an apostrophe and the letter s.  See sources below regarding nouns ending is -s.

3a. SING. PROPER NOUNS 3a. BUSINESS NAMED FOR A PERSON

Mary's coat 
Brad's movie
Julie's car 
Helen's answer
Paul Revere's ride 
Karl Marx's theory  
Einstein's archives
Juan Valdez's donkey

a Bloomingdale's sale
a Macy's sale 
a McDonald's hamburger 
a Goody's salad 
a Wendy's milkshake 

 

3c.  SING. PROPER NOUNS -S, -X, -Z  3d.   SING. PROPER NOUNS -S

Venus's glow 
Strauss's opera
Charles's computer 
James's computer
Dickens's novels 
Malraux's masterpiece
Kansas's legislature
Jesus's apostles

(MLA 3.2.7.e)  (CMOS 7.18)
 

Venus' shell 
Strauss' waltz
Charles' picture 
James' portrait
Dickens' story 
Malraux' masterpiece
Kansas' legislature
Jesus' apostles

(AP 323)
 

3e. EXCEPTIONS:  SINGULAR IN MEANING BUT PLURAL IN FORM

 S apostropheThe United States' policy…    (CMOS 7.19)
The Boy Scouts' oath
The National Academy of Sciences' new building
The Red Fox Hills' neighborhood association

Socrates' method  (ancient name)
Euripides'  tragedies  (ancient name) 
Xerxes' armies   (ancient name)
Moses' law  (ancient name)
Decartes' writings  (silent s)
Camus' philosophy  (silent s)
The marquis' title  (silent s) 

PLURAL

 S apostropheFor most plural words ending in -s,  the apostrophe is placed after the letter s.

3b.  PLURAL PROPER NOUNS  (Chicago Manual 7.18)   (MLA 3.2.7 f)

The Lincolns' bedroom
The Wagners' story
The Williamses' book
The Martinezes' yard
The Valdezes' legacy
The Browns' house
The Dickenses' boat

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Other Possessives

APOSTROPHE + S

For nouns for measurement and time, an apostrophe + s is added.

4a. TIME

A day's journey is tiring on foot.
A twenty minutes's delay is expected.
Today's news is encouraging.
Tomorrow's weather will be warmer.
Sunday's newspaper is huge.

4c. MEASUREMENT  (Chicago Manual 7.26)

A pound's worth of peanuts costs a dollar.
Three dollar's worth of gas buys very little.
A penny's worth of candy buys nothing nowadays.

4e. COMPOUNDS  (MLA 3.2.7) (Chicago Manual 7.24-6)

Huddleston and Pullum's book is on English grammar.  (same book)
Jack and Jill's house is nearby. (or Jack's and Jill's for separate houses.)
Lewis and Clark's expedition

My daughter-in-law's profession (CMOS 7.25)
An assistant professor's research

THE X OF THE…

For inanimate things, we tend to use  the X of the X (the back of the box) rather than 's.

4b. LOCATION

The name of the street is Main Street. (not usually the street's name)
The back of the room is empty. (not the room's back)
The roof of the house is tile. (not the house's roof)
The top of the page is marked. (not the page's top) 

4d. COUNTRIES

The Republic of ...
The United States of
The Kingdom of

4f. INANIMATE

The eye of the storm
The foot of the bed
The wheels of the bus

 

 

 

 

Possessive Pronouns — No Apostrophes!

POSSESSIVE DETERMINERS

No apostrophe is used with a possessive determiner.

SINGULAR  

My / Your/ Her/ His  dog

Its   It's

dog behaves well.

collar is too tight.

Plural  

Our/ You/ Their dog

behaves well.

POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS

No apostrophe is used with a possessive pronoun.

SINGULAR  

Mine/ Yours/ Hers/ His (dog)

Its (collar)

behaves well.  (dog) 

is too tight. 

PLURAL  

Ours/ Your/ Theirs (dog)

behaves well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apostrophes

Possessives and Plurals—Numbers and Letters

 

 

 

4g. PLURAL NUMBERS AND LETTERS

ABBREVIATIONS WITH CAPITAL LETTERS AND iNTERIOR PERIODS   (CMOS 7.16)

Ph.D.'s, M.D.’s and C.P.A.’s earn high salaries. (alternate MA's / PhD's)
Yahoo!'s chief executive officer
F.D.R.'s and J.F.K.'s policies… proper names  (CMOS "Periods: exceptions and options" 15.5)

BUT NOT  (MLA 3.2.7g.) (APA 4.29) (GREGG 622 a.)
PhDs and MAs are required.   (note absence of "interior" periods)

SINGLE LETTERS  (MLA 3.2.7) (AP 325) (GREGG 622.b)
Mind your p’s and q’s. The word accommodation has two c's and two m's.  (CMOS 7.16, 7.63)

SCHOLASTIC LETTERS  (GREGG 622 b.)
He received A’s and B’s on his report card.  (When context is clear: As, Bs Cs),

BUT  (APA 4.29)
The word accommodation has two cs and two ms. letter in italics

SPECIFIC YEAR 
I know that 1968's music was great.  (possessive)

The '60s music.  (plural noun modifier) The apostrophe marks the omission of part of the number.

4g. PLURAL NUMBERS AND LETTERS

ABBREVIATIONS WITHOUT PERIODS (capital letters used as words) (MLA 3.2.7g.) (APA 4.29) (GREGG 622-4) (7.15)

He sells TVs.
A dozen PCs need repairing. (DVDs, MP3s, HDMIs W-2s, IRAs)
The IQs of the scientists were high.
The URLs were linked. 
The three Rs(CMOS 7.65)

 

ABBREVIATIONS WITH FIGURES   (CMOS 7.15) (MLA 3.7.2 g.)

The FAA approved the landing of 747s at that airport.
Everytime she looked, the store had no size 7s.
The toddler was in his terrible twos.
The temperature is in the 90s.
He received two As and three Bs. (CMOS 7.64)

UNSPECIFIC YEAR—DECADE; 
Great jazz musicians arose in the 1900s[plural]  (CMOS 7.15, MLA 3.7.2 g.)
The 1960's music. [possessive]

 

Also see Plurals of Letters and Numbers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

There's a lot of people here today.   subject-verb agreement
Theirs a lot of people here today.    confuses possessive with contraction

The cat is content.  Its just had it's dinner.   (confuses possessive with contraction)

 

Were gonna leave.    (confuses possessive with verb)

Whose the parent who's child is making so much noise?   (confuses possessive with contraction)

The late 1960's were exciting years in San Francisco.  confuses plural with possessive

My toddler is in his terrible two's (a difficult age or stage)

The United State's policy is…  incorrect possessive form

SOLUTION

There are / There're a lot of people here today.  There're is very informal.

It's just had its dinner.  (It has)

We're goin' to leave.

Who is the parent whose child is making so much noise?
Change who's to who is if the word is stressed (intonation) in the sentence.

The late 1960s were exciting years in San Francisco. 
My toddler is in the terrible twos.

Don't use an apostorphe to form the plural of an abbreviation or a number. 1990s [decade] PhDs, fours, TVs. (MLA 3.2.7 g)  

The United States' policy is… Singular in agreement, but uses the plural possessive form

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Resources

Advanced

 

 

Stylebooks

Chicago Manual, MLA & APA

The traditional rule, as found in the Chicago Manual of Style (7.18-26), MLA Hand book (3.2) and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (4.12) is a singular noun, common and proper, ending in s forms the possessive by adding 's: house/house's, boss/boss's, Davis/Davis's, Charles/Charles's. This adds an additional syllable to the original word: /ɪs/ or /ɪz/, depending upon the previous consonant. Exceptions to this rule are ancient names: Jesus', Moses', Socrates', Euripides'.

Plural nouns ending in s form the possessive by adding an apostrophe: parents' love, friends' support, the Williamses' house  Joneses' car. Exceptions to the rule are plural nouns with irregular forms: children's toys, women's fashions.

See Sabin for extensive examples (298) and Swan for a brief mention of rules (479).

AP STYLEBOOK

A more modern approach can be found in the AP Stylebook, which specifies the guidelines for news publications:

Singular common nouns ending in s: add 's unless the next word begins with s: the hostess's invitation, the hostess' seat; the witness's answer; the witness' story.

Singular proper nouns ending in s: add an apostrophe: Williams' plays, Dickens' novels, Hercules' labors, Jesus' life (but not St. James's Palace).

Plural nouns ending in s add only an apostrophe: the girls' toys, the horses' tail, the states' rights, the boss' office.

(AP 192-194, 323)

 

 

Style Manual Abbreviations (used in this website)
AP (Associated Press), APA (American Psychological Association), CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style), GREGG (Gregg Reference Manual), MLA (MLA Handbook)

 

Resources 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Betty Crocker

Betty Crockers
 

 

 

Read for Errors

A large number of todays children do not know who Betty Crocker is.  "Their a lot of people who used to rely on her cookbooks," says my mother.

True! Back in the 1930s, Betty Crocker was a name everyone knew. However, Betty Crocker actually came from an employees imagination. Marjorie Husted said in 1930, "Wheel make her look like the average American homemaker."

Betty Crockers 101 Delicious Bisquick Creations was the name of one of her books. And a television commercial asked, "Whose the person who's cookies we love?" Soon boxes of Bettys cake, brownie and biscuit mixes appeared on the supermarkets shelves.

In 1946, Betty Crocker was voted the United States most popular woman. (Eleanor Roosevelt was first.)  Few people realized that she dint really exist. She was simple General Mill's icon.  As womens fashions changed, the company updated her picture.  Her appearance became more professional looking as women enter the business world.  People agreed with the commercial that told them, "Buy Betty Crocker. Its a quality you can trust." 

In honor of this fictitious woman, a street was named after her. The street's name is Betty Crocker Drive.

fictitious (adj) – being of fiction, not really existing

General Mills – a company that produced flour products

 

 

 

 

 

Complete the sentence.  Add an apostrophe if needed.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 1-10" button at the bottom, or click the check button to the left  as you go.

 

1.

2.
." says my mother.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.
 the person  

8.
cake, brownie and biscuit mixes

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

George and Gracie

George Burns

 

 

Read for Errors

Bob:  Hows it goin? Whats new with you?

George:  Its not so bad.  My backs bothering me a lot, and so is my wifes complaining. Shes always nagging me. I cant remember a time when she didnt . Shell nag me til the day I die! 

"Your never home anymore.  Youve never loved me.  Youd better leave!", she complains.

I should of listened to my best friend.  He said, "Dont  get married.  Stay single.  Its better!"

We been together for fifty-five years. Theirs so much we have in common. Theirs so many things we do together. ", I tell her.

But whats he know? I tell him, "Marys the love of my life!"

nag – to keep asking someone to do something, or to keep complaining to someone about their behavior

 

 

 

 

 

Edit for errors.

  1. Select a response correct or incorrect.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 11-20" button at the bottom, or click the "Check" button to the left  as you go.

 

16.
Hows it goin? Whats new with you?


17.
Its not so bad.  My backs bothering me a lot, and so is my wifes complaining.


18.
Shes always nagging me. I cant remember a time when she didnt . Shell nag me til the day I die! 


19.
"Your never home anymore.  Youve never loved me.  Youd better leave!", she complains.


20.
I should of listened to my best friend.  He said, "Dont  get married.  Stay single.  Its better!"


21.
We been together for fifty-five years. Theirs so much we have in common. Theirs so many things we do together. ", I tell her.


22.
But whats he know? I tell him, "Marys the love of my life!"