The apostrophe is tricky. It means different things at different times. This article is meant to clear up any confusion and help you use apostrophes, which might mean you get straight As in your exams – or should that be A’s?!
- The main reason for using apostrophes is to show a contraction, which is a word made up of two other words shunted together – the apostrophe just stands for the missing letter(s), eg didn’t = did not, could’ve = could have and won’t = will not.
- The second most common usage is in showing the possessive, in other words showing that something belongs to someone (or something). This is where it gets tricky, because where you put the apostrophe depends on how many things you’re talking about. If the noun is plural and ends with -s, you just need to put an apostrophe on the end of the word. In all other cases, you should put ‘s, eg two horses’ hooves, BUT a horse’s hooves or the children’s books or St James’s Palace.
- The other occasion when you might find an apostrophe is in the plural of individual letters or numbers. Somehow, it just looks better, eg he got three A’s at O-level back in the 1980’s.
If you think you’ve mastered the rules, try taking this quiz! Alternatively, here are a few sample questions. Just choose the correct option.
- He stole James’s/James’/Jameses book.
- She marked the childrens/children’s/childrens’ homework.
- He didnt/didn’t/did’nt mind at all.
- They wont/wo’nt/won’t be back in time.
- The two girls/girl’s/girls’ bags were next to each other.
- You need to get three As/As’/A’s to get into Oxford.
- I love the clothes we used to wear in the 1970s/1970’s/1970s’.
- He stroked the cats/cat’s/cats’ back.
- The Smiths/Smith’s/Smiths’ house was gorgeous.
- Diana was the peoples/peoples’/people’s princess.