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Use an apostrophe:

  1. in contractions
  2. to show possession

Rule 1:


Use an apostrophe in a contraction, a word that is a shortened combination of two words. Contractions are used in informal writing and serve to shorten two words by leaving out some letters and joining the two words with an apostrophe. Following is a chart that lists some common contractions and the words that form them:






√ Check your work


The use of contractions is quite simple: if you wish to shorten two words into one and it is appropriate to do so using an apostrophe, you simply replace the words with the correct contraction. There are, however, some common mistakes people make when using contractions. There are a few contractions that sound like possessive words, and these are often confused. For example, the contraction they’re sounds like the possessive their, but the two words have very different meanings.



Example (they’re):


I don’t know where they think they’re going, but they’re going to end up at a dead end.



Example (their):


When I saw them heading toward the dead end, I assumed they did not know their way.



Example (they’re and their):


They’re going to run into a dead end because they don’t know their way.

Remember that they’re is short for they areTheir is the third person plural possessive. The next pair of words to watch out for is the contraction you’re and the possessive your.



Example (you’re):


You’re not going to succeed in school if you don’t study hard.



Example (your):


Your success in school is dependent upon hard work.



Example (you’re and your):


You’re not going to succeed in school if you don’t try your best in all that you do.

You’re is short for you are, and your is the second person singular possessive. The final pair of words that can be confusing are it’s and its.



Example (it’s):


It’s seemingly impossible for a cat to travel that far to get home.



Example (its):


A cat will travel a long way to find its home and the family it loves.



Example (it’s and its):


It’s amazing the distance a cat will travel to find its way back home.


Be careful when you use it’s or its; remember that it’s is the contraction for it is and its is the third person singular possessive.


To check for proper use of a contraction, especially those that can be tricky, substitute the words that have been replaced by the contraction. If the full-length word makes sense, the contraction is correct. If not, you need to check your spelling. Once again, though, keep in mind that contractions are more appropriate for use in informal writing.

Rule 2:


Use an apostrophe to show possession.



To show the possessive form of singular nouns, add an apostrophe and an –s



Teddy cleaned the dog’s house before he and his family went on vacation. The teacher used Julia’s homework as an example because it was exceptional. She didn’t feel comfortable borrowing Harris’s car.




To show the possessive form of plural nouns, add an –s and an apostrophe:



Coach Hannigan distributed the girls’ uniforms at soccer practice.

Some plural nouns, however, do not end in –s. In these instances, add an apostrophe and an –s.






The women’s meeting will be held in the gymnasium on Thursday night.
All of the children’s bikes were parked in the driveway.
Competition between men’s sports teams is fierce.






√ Check your work


Check for the correct use of apostrophes with possessives by first identifying the nouns that show possession. Then identify whether the noun is singular or plural. If the noun is singular, add an apostrophe and an –s. If the noun is plural, add an –s and an apostrophe. Finally, take note of any irregular plural nouns that do not end in –s. Add an apostrophe and an –s to irregular nouns.

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