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Apostrophes, Contractions and Possessives

Apostrophes are the least-understood and most-often-misused punctuation marks in the English language. Because the proper use of apostrophes seems to have no logical pattern, they’re very easy to goof up.

Apostrophes are used to form possessives:

An apostrophe indicates ownership.

CORRECT:     The Corvette is Jane’s car.

INCORRECT: The Corvette is Janes car.

                     The Corvette is Janes’ car.  

CORRECT:     The Corvette is the Harris’s car.

                       The Corvette belongs to the Harrises.

INCORRECT: The Corvette belongs to the Harris’s.

                        The Corvette belongs to the Harris’.

The exception to the rule -– and one of the main reasons for all the confusion -- is its/it’s.

ITS is the possessive form. IT’S is a contraction of IT IS.

CORRECT: The Corvette blew its transmission.

INCORRECT: The Corvette blew it’s transmission. (Read “ The Corvette blew it is transmission.”)

Apostrophes are NOT used to form plurals:

INCORRECT: Jane owns two Corvette’s.

                        They dreamed of being grandparent’s.

                        What is the difference between scene’s and chapter’s?

CORRECT: Jane owns two Corvettes.

                        They dreamed of being grandparents.

                        What is the difference between scenes and chapters?

 Apostrophes are used to create contractions:

CORRECT: They’re coming to dinner. (They are)

INCORRECT: Their coming to dinner.

                   There coming to dinner.

CORRECT:     It’s hard to imagine. (It is)

INCORRECT: Its hard to imagine.

CORRECT:     Please call if you’re not coming.  (You are)

INCORRECT: Please call if your not coming.

CORRECT: What’s so special about her? (What is)

INCORRECT: Whats so special about her?

Testing the apostrophe:

When deciding which form of the word to use, read the sentence as if both words were fully spelled out. If the sentence reads correctly with both words, then the contraction -- with the apostrophe -- is the correct form.

EXAMPLE: If (it’s – its) all the same to you.

Is the correct form “it’s” or “its”?

We read the sentence, “If it is all the same to you.” That’s correct, so the proper form is “it’s” – the contraction.

EXAMPLE: What was (their - they're - there) decision?

We read the sentence, "What was they are decision?" That's incorrect, so "they're" isn't the right form. Since there refers to distance, we're left with "What was their decision?" -- the possessive and the correct form.

This exercise is copyrighted material and is offered for the individual's own use. Further distribution or sale is not permitted without permission of the copyright holder. Copyright 2012 Leigh Michaels.

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