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Use an Apostrophe
  • (Rule 1) in contractions.
  • (Rule 2) to show possession.


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:

Words that combine to form a contraction


it is


I am


he will


they are


you are


we will


could not


would not




does not


do not


will not


let us


I would


they would


was not


I will


should not


we had


they will


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 are. Their 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.


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.

Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks to set off quotations and dialogue.
Example (quotation):
In his famous inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy implored, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.”

Example (dialog):
“Where are you going tonight?” asked Greg.
“Beth and I are going to the library to get some research done,” Susan replied. “Then we’re heading to the mall to do some shopping.”
When using quotation marks
  • (Rule 1) commas and periods go inside the quotation marks.
  • (Rule 2) semicolons and colons go outside the quotation marks.
  • (Rule 3) question marks and exclamation points go outside the quotation marks.
Rule 1

Commas and periods should be placed inside quotation marks.


“I don’t understand what you’re trying to say,” Glen said. “You need to speak up.”
Don’t use a comma and quotation marks for indirect quotes.

Example (direct quote):
He said, “I don’t have time to take the car for an oil change today.”

Example (indirect quote):
He said that he didn’t have time to take the car for an oil change today.


Check your work
Place commas and periods inside quotation marks. To determine if a quote is a direct or indirect quote, ask yourself if the quote comes directly from the speaker and if the quote contains the exact words of the speaker. If so, place quotation marks around the quote. If not, there should be no comma or quotation marks.


Rule 2

Place semicolons and colons outside quotation marks.

Example (semicolon)
My mom always used to say, “A stitch in time saves nine”; I always remember that quote when I am tempted to procrastinate.

Example (colon)
Patrick Henry made a strong statement when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death”: he felt that it would be better to die than to live in a country without freedom.
Check your work
When you use quotation marks with a semicolon or colon, first determine whether you are using the semi­colon or colon correctly. Then make sure you place the semicolon or colon outside the quotation marks.
Rule 3

Place question marks and exclamation points outside quotation marks unless they are a part of the quotation.


Examples (question mark)
Did you hear Professor Johnston say, “You must read the first 500 pages for a quiz on Monday”?
Stunned, she implored, “Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving for good?”
In the first example, the quotation is a statement that does not require a question mark; however, the overall sentence that contains the quotation is a question. Therefore, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks. In the second example, though, the quotation is a question, so the question mark goes inside the quotation marks.
Examples (exclamation point):
I can’t believe she finally said, “I love you”!
The woman ran after the thief yelling, “Hey, come back with my purse!”
Overall, the first sentence is an exclamatory sentence, but the phrase I love you is not; therefore, the exclamation point goes outside the quotation marks. Hey, come back with my purse in the second sentence, however, is an exclamation, so the exclamation point goes inside the quotation marks.
Check your work
Examine all quotations in your writing. If the quotation itself is a question or exclamation, place the appropriate punctuation mark inside the quotation marks. If, however, the overall sentence is a question or exclamation but the actual quote is not, the punctuation should be placed outside the quotation marks.

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