English - Apostrophes

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Apostrophes are used to show possession or to mark a contraction. You can learn how to think through whether an apostrophe is correct by analyzing each apostrophe in your writing. You can focus on two types:

  • Possessive apostrophe: We found Hank’s hammer. (Instead of the awkward phrase “the hammer of Hank,” write “Hank’s hammer.”)
  • Contraction: I can’t make it. (In this sentence, “cannot” has been shortened to “can’t”)

Since most academic and formal writing does not allow for contractions, possessive apostrophes will be your focus. The rules are relatively simple.

You can use apostrophes a few other ways, but for now, concentrate on correctly marking nouns possessive.


Use an apostrophe followed by “s” with a singular noun to mark possession:

  • The keeper filled the tiger’s bowl with water.
  • The spider sucked the juice out of the aphid’s paralyzed body.

Use an apostrophe with a plural noun to mark possession:

  • The keeper filled the tigers’ bowls with water.
  • The wind knocked the birds’ nest out of the tree.

The Exception: It

Possession will be marked for every noun with an -'s or -s'. Also, nearly all pronouns have their own possessive cases–for example, yours, his, hers, theirs–so you will never use an apostrophe with pronouns, including it. However, to mark it as possessive, simply add an s.

  • The tree fell because of its own weight.
  • The wind blew its way into the house.
  • The bicycle had lost its fender.

Many students will attempt to mark the possessive of “it” with an apostrophe and “s.” However, “it’s” is a contraction for “it is.” This is simply an exception to remember:

  • Its = Possessive
  • It’s = Contraction for “It is”

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