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How apostrophes work. (or the apostrophe’s story and its conclusions!). Sources: Michael Swann, Practical English Usage (3rd Edition) David Crystal, Rediscover Grammar ; BBC H2G2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A790175. Case 1 – missing letters.

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how apostrophes work

How apostrophes work

(or the apostrophe’s story and its conclusions!)

  • Sources:
  • Michael Swann, Practical English Usage (3rd Edition)
  • David Crystal, Rediscover Grammar;
  • BBC H2G2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A790175
case 1 missing letters
Case 1 – missing letters
  • They are used to replace letters in contracted forms:

Can’t = Can not I’d = I would / I had it’s = it is / it has

Who’s = who is / who has

Less common (and never in AmE):

mayn’t = may not shan’t = shall not

Regional: ain’t / am’t = am not (England)

amn’t = am not (Scotland, Ireland)

case 2 possessives
Case 2 – possessives
  • Used to denote ownership, before or after ‘s’:

The boy’s mother Chris’s husband your parents’ house men’s room

 (singular)  (plural) 

singular possessives ending with ‘s’ - and especially ‘ss’ – often drop the final ‘s’. For example, Jesus’ teachings

But not for possessive determiners and pronouns (e.g yours, its)

It’s OK, the dog has had its dinner.

Whose house are we going to?

case 3 special plurals
Case 3 – special plurals

Words that do not usually have a plural form sometimes have one when a plural form is created:

It sounds like a poor plan – too many if’s and but’s.

Apostrophes are used for plurals of letters and sometimes for numbers and abbreviations:

  • Use two d’s instead of two b’s.
  • It was in the late 1980’s. (more usually 1980s, and the ’80s)
  • There are two MD’s in this company. (more usually MDs)
try correcting this
Try correcting this….

It really is so 70’s here! Hang on… thats Sue Davies’ car isnt it? I cant believe it! Shes actually walked into the mens’ room by mistake. Chris’s told her to get out! That must’ve been a surprise for him – hes not used to that sort of thing. Chris’ parents upbringing was very strict and its rubbed off on him. His father-in-law’s pretty scary too, so he’s frightened by anything thats even a little risqué. He has to watch his Ps and Qs!

17 instances which case are they
17 instances … which case are they?

It really is so ’70s here. Hang on… that’s Sue Davies’ car isn’t it? I can’t believe it! She’s actually walked into the men’s room by mistake. Chris’s told her to get out! That must’ve been a surprise for him – he’s not used to that sort of thing. Chris’parents’ upbringing was very strict and it’s rubbed off on him. His father-in-law’s pretty scary too, so he’s frightened by anything that’s even a little risqué. He has to watch his p’s and q’s!

finally
Finally…
  • There are many more apostrophes used in spoken English
  • Formal writing uses apostrophes only as possessives, not as contractions
  • Reduce or eliminate contractions when talking to people with a poorer grasp of English
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