Apostrophe s

Apostrophe s
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English Possession

The English apostrophe s and s apostrophe cause a lot of problems, even for native speakers. This lesson’s task is to help you learn about possessives and contractions that need apostrophes and plurals that don’t.

The apostrophe has two purposes in English:

1) To indicate that one or more letters was dropped in a contraction.

uncontracted = contracted
it is it’s
we are we’re
does not doesn’t
of the clock o’clock

2) The apostrophe s and s apostrophe indicate possession for singular and plural nouns, respectively.

Singular nouns are made possessive with ‘s

Tom’s book
the child’s wardrobe (it belongs to one child)
the boy’s wardrobe (it belongs to one boy)
the girl’s toys (they belong to one girl)

 Singular nouns that end in s, x, or z still need ‘s to show possession.

Las Vegas’s hotels
Bill Blass’s designs
the fox’s habitat
Señor Ortiz’s class

Plural nouns are made possessive with s’

the books’ covers (several books)
my brothers’ jobs (my two brothers)
the boys’ wardrobe (it belongs to several boys)
the girls’ toys (they belong to several girls)

Nouns with irregular plurals take ‘s

my children’s wardrobe (they share it)
my children’s wardrobe (they each have their own)

 The apostrophe should never be used when you are just making a noun plural, with no possession.

correct   incorrect
The girls walked by The girl’s walked by
My brothers are tall My brother’s are tall
Welcome travelers Welcome traveler’s
I bought three CDs. I bought three CD’s.
He was born in the 1960s. He was born in the 1960’s.

The Bottom Line

Just remember that the apostrophe has a purpose: to indicate a contraction or possession. It does not indicate a plural – the letter s does a fine job of that all by itself.

Related English Difficulties

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English possession with apostrophe s

2 Responses

  1. Ron Egan 1 December 2014 / 13:24

    Back in the fourties we were taught that an apostophe was to be placed after the s if it was possessive and before the s if it was non-possessive, such as “Harry’s on his way,” thus removing the letter i and making it easier to state. For instance saying “John’s Shoe Store” would be incorrect as it would mean “John is Shoe Store.” Most people ignore this today. Looking forward to a reply.

  2. lkl 1 December 2014 / 16:15

    I’ve never heard that, and it contradicts what I did learn: ‘s is for singular nouns (dog’s = belonging to one dog, John’s = belonging to one man named John) and s’ is for plural (dogs’ = belonging to at least two dogs, Johns’ = belonging to two or more men named John).

    ‘s can also indicate a contraction of is or has.

    So for me and every grammar book I’ve never looked at, “John’s at the store” and “This is John’s store” are both correct.

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