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The Apostrophe

Apostrophes can often cause confusion, but the rules for their use are straightforward.

An apostrophe has two uses, to indicate a missing letter in compound words (or contractions), and to indicate possession.

Contractions which use apostrophes are nearly always abbreviations and are therefore considered informal, meaning their use in essays is not advised apart from in direct quotations. Common examples include:

Apostrophes are used to indicate possession through the ‘apostrophe-s’ construction (’s), which indicates possession in the same way as an ‘of’ clauses. For example:

Can also be written as

If the possessive noun if plural and already ends in ‘s’ (e.g. ‘fathers’), the ‘s’ in the apostrophe-s construction is dropped. So, for example:

Writing brothers’s or babies’s in the above examples is a common mistake. But for a singular noun which ends in ‘s’, the second ‘s’ is included:

Likewise, plurals which do not end in ‘s’ also take the ‘apostrophe-s’, for example:

This is the only situation where an ‘apostrophe-s’ appears in a plural noun, possessive or otherwise - an ‘apostrophe-s’ is never used to make a noun plural.

The use of apostrophes with pronouns requires special attention.

Apostrophes are only ever used with pronouns to form a contraction. Pronouns have their own possessive forms - my, your, his, its, our/ours, their/theirs. These never take the ‘apostrophe-s’ construction - your’s, our’s, their’s etc do not exist. Its and it’s are commonly confused, but following the rule above, its is the possessive form and it’s is a contraction of it is.

The same is true of your/you’re, his/he’s, their/they’re and theirs/there’s - if it has an apostrophe, it is a contraction, if it does not, it is a possessive.

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