Neal Younger
TG582 Telnet
index » Apostrophes: A Guide
Apostrophes: A Guide
Apostrophes can be confusing at times; though misuse of them can confuse the person who is reading what you have written so you must endeavour to use them correctly at all times to avoid any such possible incomprehension. There are some occasions in the English language where apostrophes should be used but others where they definitely should not. This guide should help you to understand when and how to use apostrophes in which circumstances and when not to use them at all.

When you are talking about something belonging to something else, (or, in other words, being possessed), you must always use an apostrophe to denote this possession. For example, if you were talking about a computer which belonged to Greg, you would say 'Greg's computer'. You insert an apostrophe, followed by an 'S' to show that the computer belongs to Greg. 'Gregs computer' is not correct. There must always be an apostrophe. To give another example, in order to talk about a pen which belongs to Sally, you say 'Sally's pen', and so on. There are times, however, when this rule does not apply. For example, if you were to talk about an object which belonged to a person whose name ends with the letter 'S', such as 'Lucas', then you cannot simply add on an apostrophe, followed by an 'S'. The grammatical rules of the English language forbid an 's's' occurring in any situation. So, in such situations, instead of using the above rule, you simply place an apostrophe after the name in question and forget about the final 'S'. For example, to talk about a dog which Lucas owns, 'Lucas' dog' is the correct way to write this, not 'Lucas's dog'. Similarly, a guitar which belongs to Jess would be 'Jess' guitar', and so on. Another exception to the main rule of using apostrophes for possession is when an object belongs to more than one person or thing. For example, if you were to talk about a piece of homework which a group of girls had worked collectively on, you cannot say 'the girls's homework'. As before, you can never have an 's's' in written English. So, again, as before, you simply drop the final 'S', making it 'the girls' homework'. Some other examples are 'the countries' populations', when talking about the population of more than one country, and 'the bridges' construction', when talking about the construction of more than one bridge. It is important to note, however, that you only use an apostrophe without an 'S' in this situation when your plural form, (the words 'girls', 'countries' and 'bridges' in the examples above), ends with a letter 'S' itself. Not all plurals in the English language end with an 'S'. 'Child', for example, becomes 'children' when there is more than one of them. So, if you wanted to tal k about some artwork which a group of children had done, you would say 'the children's artwork' because even though 'children' is a plural, it does not end with an 'S' and henceforth, adding an apostrophe and an 'S' to show possession is not in breach of the 'never use 's's' in written English' rule, so is perfectly acceptable. Other examples of this could be 'the mice's cheese', when talking about cheese which belongs to more than one mouse and 'the oxen's legs' when talking about the legs belonging to more than one ox.

Missing Words
Another reason that apostrophes are very important in written English are to show that you have missed letters out of some words, like 'shouldn't', 'don't' and 'mustn't'. The words 'shouldnt', 'dont' and 'mustnt' do not exist in the English language without their respective apostrophes. Knowing how to use apostrophes to denote missing letters is, therefore, very important. In spoken English, we often merge words together naturally as we talk. The vast majority of Britons today would never say 'do not' in a conversation, but merely 'don't', but, unlike when speaking, we have to understand how to correctly punctuate this merging when writing. In the above example, 'do not' is shortened to 'don't'. We have removed the 'O' from 'not' and merged the remaining 'do' and 'nt' together. Because we have taken out the letter 'O', however, an apostrophe must be placed where it should be, to show where the letter has been removed, thus giving us 'don't'. Other examples include, removing the 'O' from 'not' in 'will not' to make 'won't', where we, once again, use an apostrophe to show where the missing letter should be, and 'mustn't' from 'must not' and 'who're' from 'who are', and so on. There are no exceptions to this rule: if one removes any letter in order to merge words together, an apostrophe must always be used.

Many people think that an apostrophe must be used to show that something is a plural, for example, placing an apostrophe between the 'carrot' and the 's' in 'carrots' to make 'carrot's'. This is completely incorrect and apostrophes are never used to show pluralisation. 'Carrots' is correct with no apostrophes, unless, of course, you are saying the carrot owns something.

Other Useful Information
Linked to apostrophes are words such as 'you're' and 'they're' as we touched on in the 'Missing Words' section of this guide. It is important to be able to differentiate between these words and other words which sound the same, (which are known as 'homophones'), to avoid confusion. Here are some examples: ' There/there/they're ' there (positional, for example, 'go over there'), their (possessive, for example, 'their coats were wet') and they're (short for 'they are', (the apostrophe is to denote the missing letter 'A'), for example, 'they're late'). ' Your/you're ' your (possessive, for example, 'your dog is black') and you're (short for 'you are' (the apostrophe is to denote the missing letter 'A', for example, 'I know you're going out'). Using apostrophes incorrectly when writing contractions like 'they're' and 'you're' can mean that your sentence ends up meaning something completely different to how it was intended, or simply that it does not make sense, so it is important to understand these.

I have devised this guide in order to help you to further understand the rules of apostrophe use and to clear up some common misconceptions, (such as using apostrophes to denote pluralisation, as in 'banana's'). I hope you have found this guide both useful and informative.