Apostrophes have many uses that are easily confused. While there are many nuances to them, let’s explore the ones you are most likely to encounter.
Apostrophes express possession, meaning that someone owns something:
- the girl’s book (the book owned by the girl)
- the dog’s bone (the bone owned by the dog)
- Tom’s car (the car owned by Tom)
If the subject is plural or ends in -s for another reason, it is common to add only the apostrophe and skip the additional s:
- the girls’s book → the girls’ book
- the dogs’s bone → the dogs’ bone
- Thomas’s car → Thomas’ car
Both forms are correct; pick one and use it consistently. Be careful not to accidentally move the apostrophe into the subject. If we talked about Thoma’s car, we just renamed Thomas to Thoma.
When not adding an apostrophe, we pluralize the subject:
- the girls book → the book about/for girls?
- the dogs bone → (inappropriate)
- Toms car → a car made by Toms?
Apostrophes are also used in contractions, so when letters have been removed from words:
- Let’s go to the mall. → Let us go to the mall.
- I can’t believe it’s not butter. → I cannot believe it is not butter.
The contraction it’s is easily confused with the posessive pronoun its:
- It’s a book. → It is a book.
- The child reads its book. → The child reads the book that it owns.
You could avoid contractions entirely to remove any ambiguity. If you use the longer version, listeners do not have to interpret whether you said it’s, its’, or its. It’s a stylistic choice that can help when the intention is not immediately obvious.
You will notice incorrectly placed apostrophes a lot now. Use every single one as a learning exercise!
All lessons in this course
An actual video
Two words can look like translations of each other even if they aren’t. The word “actual” is our first venture into this category of false friends.Read full lesson
Making a photo
Even if you translate each individual word in a sentence correctly, the resulting translation can still be off.Read full lesson
What for a picture
Not every word in a sentence needs to appear in its translation. Languages don’t map to each other one-to-one.Read full lesson
You can spot Germans by the fact that they use “or” to ask questions. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t work that way in English.Read full lesson
This mistranslation gave this course its name. “Together” refers to doing something with others. Here’s how to greet a group of people instead.Read full lesson
What do you call a phone you can hold in your hand? Well, it’s not this. If you call it a handy, you’re in for some awkward looks.Read full lesson
Becoming a car
“Bekommen” and “to become” are another pair of false friends. If you want something, make sure you’re not accidentally turning yourself into that thing.Read full lesson
Less vs fewer
Is it “less mistakes” or “fewer mistakes”? They both seem to say that something is not as much as it was before, but only one is grammatically correct.Read full lesson
False friends are everywhere. Eventually is very similar to the German “eventuell”, but it means something completely different.Read full lesson
Why isn’t it “Whom let the dogs out”? The extra letter does not turn a regular “who” into a fancy version of itself.Read full lesson
When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.Read full lesson
I vs me
Was an event organized by “Nina and I” or “Nina and me”? To find which one applies, take the other person out of the sentence for a second.Read full lesson
Good vs well
You’re doing well, Superman is doing good. This lesson looks at the rules behind which of these two is correct in a given situation.Read full lesson
When you’re excited about something, tell others what that thing is. On its own, you’re only saying half an expression otherwise.Read full lesson
When you don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, you can use they/them even when speaking about an individual person and not a group.Read full lesson
We have been taught to always say please and thank you. Whether they are right for a situation depends on the context.Read full lesson
Some actions happen to multiple people at once, like running into someone. In these situations, we need to use reciprocal pronouns.Read full lesson
Other languages don’t always use the auxillary “do” as much as the English language does, so it’s often lost in translation.Read full lesson