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
When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.Read full lesson