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Apostrophes Simplified. ’. The Center for Academic Excellence. Uses of the Apostrophe. To show possession . To show that a letter is missing . 3. To show, in some cases, that a word is plural. 1. SHOWING POSSESSION. Return to contents. Showing Possession.

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apostrophes simplified

Apostrophes Simplified

The Center for Academic Excellence

uses of the apostrophe

Uses of the Apostrophe

To show possession.

To show that a letter is missing.

3. To show, in some cases, that a word is plural.

1 showing possession

Return to contents

showing possession

Showing Possession

When it is clear that a word is possessive, then an apostrophe is required, as in the following sentences:

This is Maria’s room.

David went to a boys’ school.

The women’s department is on the second floor.

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showing possession1
Showing Possession

The placement of the apostrophe is cause for much confusion. However, the principle is simple. Let us use the phrase “The boys room” as an example.

Clearly, the room belongs to either one boy, or to two (or more) boys. Since there are no context clues, it is impossible to know precisely which. An apostrophe will clarify the meaning.

If the room belongs to one boy, then the apostrophe goes after the singular word boy.

If the room is shared by two or more boys, the apostrophe goes after the plural word boys.

The boy’s room. - Belongs to just one boy.

The boys’ room. - Belongs to at least two boys.

As you can see, it is now clear whether one or more boys own the room.

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showing possession2
Showing Possession

The general principle is this:

Words that take an apostrophe do so after the singular or after the plural form of the word, as the case may be.

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Brief Review:

I stole the boys hat.

I went to a boys school.

He stole the childrens hearts.

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the one ziz rule
The One Ziz Rule

Plural words that end in an “s” or a “z” sound will drop the additional “s” in certain circumstances. I call this “the one ziz rule.” A word that ends “ziz-ziz” just sounds stupid.

Jesus’ sandals, NOT Jesus’ssandals.

Moses’ loin cloth, NOT Moses’sloin cloth.

St. James’s Palace, NOT St. James’ Palace.

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quick quiz
Quick Quiz
  • The childrens department is upstairs.
  • My daughter attended a girls conference in New York.
  • The [one] dogs kennel is outside.
  • The Students Union is on the east side of campus.
  • My uncle is recuperating at the Veterans Hospital in Indianapolis.
  • Have you noticed Jennifers acne?
  • My grandmother attended the Worlds Fair in 1932.
  • The teams winning streak was short-lived.
  • My mother attends the Peoples Church.
  • The [two] girls room is at the end of the hall.

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quick quiz answer key
Quick Quiz—Answer Key
  • Thechildren’s department is upstairs.
  • My daughter attended a girls’conference in New York.
  • The [one] dog’skennel is outside.
  • TheStudents’ Union is on the east side of campus.
  • My uncle is recuperating at the Veterans’Hospital in Indianapolis.
  • Have you noticed Jennifer’s acne?
  • My grandmother attended the World’sFair in 1932.
  • The team’swinning streak was short-lived.
  • My mother attends thePeople’sChurch.
  • The [two] girls’room is at the end of the hall.

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2 showing missing letters
2. Showing Missing Letters

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showing missing letters
Showing Missing Letters

An apostrophe indicates that letters are missing from a contraction, as follows:

it’s - it is - “i” is missing from is

didn’t - did not - “o” is missing from not

could’ve - could have - “ha” is missing

won’t - will not - God only knows

can’t - cannot - “no” is missing

e’en - even - “v” is missing

and so on.

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3 showing plurals
3. Showing Plurals

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showing plurals
Showing Plurals

Apostrophes also show that words (usually numbers of one sort or another) are plural, although this usage is falling out of fashion. It is still seen from time to time but is now considered unnecessary and in MLA Format should be omitted.

During the 1960’s, I lived in Ontario.

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uses of the apostrophe1
Uses of the Apostrophe

You now know all you need to about the uses of the apostrophe.

Remember, it shows (a) possession, (b) omission in contractions, and (c) certain types of plural.

The following rule of thumb is a good one where the apostrophe is concerned:

“If in doubt, leave it out.”

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the end
The End

PowerPoint Presentation by Mark A. Spalding, BA, MEd, MA

Painting by David Shevlino