Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Everything You Need To Know About the Apostrophe in One Simple Lesson

I have a dream to teach every English-speaking person how to use an apostrophe correctly. Whenever, as a substitute teacher in elementary school, I get a chance to teach children about apostrophes, I tell them “Now you know something that many adults don’t understand. So go home tonight and teach this to your parents.”

I don't mean to sound like I think I'm really smart because I know how to use an apostrophe correctly. I know that it doesn't require a lot of smarts to understand. This is why I want so much to teach it to everybody out there who speaks English. I happened to pay attention in school the day they taught it. Maybe you didn't.

 In case you didn't:

Are you intimidated by the tiny speck of ink or pencil lead known as the apostrophe? Do you feel an uncontrollable urge to throw one in before every letter s you write? Just plain unsure so you avoid them all together?

Well, wonder no more! Anyone can become an expert in the correct use of the apostrophe by simply completing the following tutorial. You will be helping me in my quest to rid the world of misplaced apostrophes and you will have increased confidence.

If you already use apostrophes correctly, I think you are wonderful! Read no further. And don’t apply for the certificate at the end of the course. It is intended for beginners only.

Gaining a Basic Understanding of the Apostrophe in Ten Minutes or Less

The apostrophe is used to show possession.

Example: The dog’s bowl is on the kitchen floor.

The apostrophe in the above sentence is placed before the letter s, indicating that the bowl belongs to one dog.

Example: The dogs’ bowl is on the kitchen floor.

The apostrophe in the above sentence is placed after the letter s, indicating that the bowl belongs to more than one dog. The dogs share the bowl.

Example: The dog’s bowls are on the kitchen floor.

The apostrophe in the above sentence is placed before the letter s, indicating that the bowls belong to one dog. There is no apostrophe in the word bowls because it is simply the plural of the word bowl. There is no need to use an apostrophe because nothing belongs to the bowls in the above sentence. (Don’t throw in an apostrophe just because you see the letter s.)

Example: The bowl’s interior had dog food in it.

The apostrophe in the above sentence is placed before the letter s in the word bowl because the interior belongs to the bowl.

There is a lot of confusion about apostrophes and last names. Many families like to display a sign by the front door that tells who occupies the house.

Example: The Smiths

The sign in the above example has no apostrophe. “The Smiths” in this case is short for “The Smiths live here.” The letter s in Smiths indicates that more than one Smith lives in the house.

Example: The Smiths’

In this case, “The Smiths’” is short for “This is the Smiths’ house.” The apostrophe follows the final s in Smiths, indicating that the house belongs to more than one Smith.

Example: The Smith’s

This is what we most commonly see on this kind of a sign. The apostrophe before the final s indicates that the house belongs to one Smith. I suppose if you’re the one who pays the mortgage, and you consider the house to belong only to you, and you want everybody to know that you are the sole owner of your house, the Big Smith… but it seems kind of weird to me.

The apostrophe is also used in contractions.

Example: do not          don’t

Here’s (here is) the tricky part:

What is the difference between its and it’s? How do you know when to use an apostrophe?

Maybe you want to show that something belongs to “it.”

Example: The dog licks its bowl.

There is no apostrophe in the above sentence. If you used an apostrophe before the letter s in the word its, it could be mistaken for the contraction for “it is.”

The dog licks it is bowl?

No good.

So we leave it out.

Whenever you’re (you are) wondering if the word “its” should have an apostrophe, ask yourself “Do I mean ‘it is?’” If you answer yes, then you need an apostrophe. If you don’t mean “it is,” don’t use one.

Now take the following quiz and see how you do! Insert apostrophes in the appropriate places. Answers at the end of the post.

1. The girls dress is very pretty. (one girl)

2. The Johnsons live at 225 Sycamore drive. (a whole family of Johnsons)

3. The Johnsons house is at 225 Sycamore Drive. (a whole family of Johnsons)

4. I wouldnt touch him with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole.

5. Lets go to Bettys and eat some peanut brittle.

6. I wonder if its almost morning?

7. There are five Brittanys in the class.

8. The birds feathers are all over the yard. (more than one bird)

9. The cat arches its back whenever the small child is near.

10. The players uniforms are old school. (more than one player)

11. Wont you come home, Bill Bailey?

12. I will go out to eat with the Petersons on Thursdays for the rest of the year.

13. I will go out to eat with the Petersons dogs on Thursdays for the rest of the year.

14. The Thompsons cat is stuck in the tree.

15. The bad guys mask fell off as he was holding up the bank during Fridays storm.

Hopefully this has helped a few people. Now go and teach it to someone else. Help to rid the world of misplaced apostrophes. It’s a worthy cause!

Answers: 1. girl’s 2. no apostrophe 3. Johnsons’ 4. wouldn’t 5. Let’s, Betty’s (implies Betty’s house) 6. it’s 7. no apostrophe 8. birds’ 9. no apostrophe 10. players’ 11. Won’t 12. no apostrophe 13. Petersons’ 14. Thompsons’ 15. guy’s, Friday’s

Scoring: 15 correct – you are an expert! Report your perfect score to me and I’ll e-mail you a certificate. (It could take up to thirty days to receive it.) 10 to14 correct answers – you’re getting there! Less than 10 correct answers – contact me for more tutoring.


  1. I am pretty good at apostrophes, but should have paid better attention when I learned how to use them in regards to names that end in S. I didn't think I'd ever really need it, but then I married an Adams. Are these examples right?
    Love the Adamses
    Welcome to the Adams' household
    Truely I remember learning this, then figuratively throwing it in my brain's trash can...

  2. I got a hundred. Did you make up all those sentence's? (Haha,just kidding.)

  3. This material will be covered in the advanced course! (If I ever write one.)Love,The Adamses is correct. I think you would be better off saying "Welcome to the Adams Household." I would probably say "Welcome to the Gassman Household."

  4. I think constructions such as The Smith's are reflect that they are the Smith family (one family) and it is their house. I don't know if I like it, but it doesn't bug me as much as other misplaced apostrophes.

  5. I wish you could like comments like you can on Facebook. Carolyn just made me laugh and then wish I had commented first so I could seem witty like that.

  6. I love your post! I'll have to use it with my students, because they have the same uncontrollable urge to place an apostrophe anywhere and everywhere... yet, they can't read less common contractions like "they'll" or "it'll" They get so freaked out by the apostrophes and just pause at those words!

  7. Of course the first graders I work with don't get them at all!! When they see a contraction like I'm it really throws them for a loop. They usually say im. You'll have to do an article on commas!! Now that's another story.