When to use Apostrophes

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  • 1. Apostrophes  When to use apostrophes o contraction o ownership  (‘s) apostrophe s  (s’) s apostrophe  When not to use apostrophes o Common mistakes  used for plurals  it’s and its  you’re and your  with shortened forms – FAQs not FAQ’s  with decades – 1990s not 1990’sThe correct use of apostrophes can be difficult. Many people are unsure of when touse them, sometimes adding apostrophes when they’re not needed and at othertimes leaving them out when they are! Here are some guidelines on when to useapostrophes and when not to.When to use apostrophesApostrophes are used for only two purposes. These are to indicate:1. contraction2. ownership1. ContractionAn apostrophe is used to show that a letter or letters have been left out when two ormore words are joined together and contracted (shortened).She’s studying for the exam. = She is studying …Weren’t you at the lecture? = Were not you at …I’d like to finish my assignment before next Friday. = I would like…Other examples: I’m going to the library. = I am going … She’ll give a presentation. = She will give … He’d finished the paper. = He had finished … We’ve started our research. = We have started … You’re expected to read widely. = You are expected …Point to noteContractions are not generally used in formal academic writing, for example, thereports and essays that students are required to write at university. Contractions areinformal and conversational and they do not convey the appropriate formal academictone generally required for university assignments.2. OwnershipThe other use of apostrophes is to show ownership (possession) or association.They are commonly: followed by s and known as apostrophe s ( ‘s) OR preceded by s and known as s apostrophe ( s’). 1Produced by Academic Skills Advisers, Student Life© Deakin UniversityLast updated June 2007www.deakin.edu.au/studentlife/academic-skills
  • 2. This may appear confusing at first, but it becomes clearer when you see the patternand the reason for it.If you’re not sure whether a word ending in s needs an apostrophe, try substitutingher, his, its or their for the word1. If it makes sense, it needs an apostrophe; if it doesnot make sense, no apostrophe should be used.the lecturer’s overheads – her overheads = the overheads produced by the lecturerThis makes sense and therefore the word lecturer needs an apostrophe.However:Students conducted a survey – Their conducted …This does not make sense and therefore no apostrophe is used with the word students. (It is asimple plural and does not indicate possession. More information is provided below - When notto use apostrophes.)2a Apostrophe s (‘s)Apostrophe s (‘s) is used to indicate possession for: most singular nouns plural nouns NOT ending in s.Singular NounsThe most common use of apostrophe s (‘s) is after a singular noun to indicate possession orassociation.e.g. The lecturer’s overheads were clear.Singular noun (lecturer) ends in apostrophe s (‘s) = lecturer’s - the overheads produced by thelecturerOther examples:The student’s books were expensive. = the books belonging to the studentI took note of the tutor’s comments regarding the exam. = the comments made by the tutorPlural Nouns NOT ending in sApostrophe s (‘s) is also used to show possession for nouns that do NOT form the plural by adding s.singular - plural NOT ending in sman menwoman womenThe assignment required us to discuss men’s attitudes to women’s changing roles.Plural nouns NOT ending in s use apostrophe s (‘s) to indicate possession or association – theattitudes of men; the roles of womenOther uses of apostrophe s (‘s):1K Chanock, Just enough grammar, Academic Skills Unit, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, La TrobeUniversity, Bundoora, Vic. 1997. 2
  • 3.  Personal names ending in sThere are various and complex rules that are sometimes applied for personal namesending in s. The Style manual 2 recommends for simplicity that apostrophe s (‘s)should be added to any personal name ending in s to show ownership or association:e.g. Professor Collins’s book (the book belonging to or written by Prof. Collins) Dr Saunders’s lecture (the lecture presented by Dr Saunders) Joint ownershipApostrophe s (‘s) is used on only the second of the two ‘owners’.e.g. Ben and Nam’s assignment, i.e. the assignment jointly done by Ben and NamIn contrast, where ownership is not joint, each owner takes an apostrophe.e.g. the lecturer’s and the tutor’s comments, i.e. the comments of the lecturer and the comments of thetutor2b s Apostrophe (s’)S apostrophe (s’) is used to indicate possession for: Plural nouns ending in s. (Most nouns form their plural by adding s.)Students’ results will be released progressively over the telephone and the Internet.Plural noun ending in s (students) uses s apostrophe (s’) = students’ - theresults of more than one studentPoint to noteDo not confuse singular possessive (2a above) with plural possessive (for plurals ending in s.)That is:Use apostrophe s (‘s) for singular possessive.tutor’s comments = comments of one tutorlecturer’s expectations = expectations of one lecturerUse s apostrophe (s’) for possessive of plurals ending in s.tutors’ comments = comments of more than one tutorlecturers’ expectations = expectations of more than one lecturerWhen not to use apostrophesCommon mistakes1. Apostrophes are often mistakenly used for plurals.Apostrophes are never used to indicate simple plural, that is, more than one of anyitem, as noted earlier (2 Ownership).She returned the books to the library. (books not book’s)Good students usually arrive early for lectures. (students not student’s; lectures not lecture’s)It is important to contribute at tutes. (tutes not tute’s)2. Many people confuse it’s and its.2 Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th edn, rev. Snooks & Co., John Wiley & Sons, Milton, Qld, 2002. 3
  • 4.  It’s is only ever used as a contraction for it is (see explanation that follows) and for it has in examples such as: It’s (it has) been decided to postpone the tutorial. Its stands for belonging to or associated with it.At university it’s important to submit each assignment by its due date. it is the due date for each assignmentA good way to avoid confusing these two is to remember that the word its indicates possession in thesame way as, for example, the words my, your, his, her, our and their do. These words do not haveapostrophes and, in the same way, neither does its – belonging to it. my – belonging to me your – belonging to you his – belonging to him her – belonging to her our – belonging to us their – belonging to them its – belonging to it3. Your and you’re are also frequently confused.They sound alike but their meanings are entirely different. your means belonging to or associated with you. you’re is a contraction of you are.You’re expected to keep up-to-date with your reading at university.contraction of ‘you are’ the reading you are required to do4. Apostrophes are often incorrectly used with shortened forms.DO NOT use an apostrophe for plurals of shortened forms.e.g. FAQs not FAQ’s CDs not CD’s5. DO NOT use an apostrophe when referring to decades.e.g. the 1970s, the 1990s, etc.The 1960s was a time of idealism among university students.Useful resourcesStyle manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th edn, 2002, rev. Snooks & Co.,John Wiley & Sons, Milton, Qld.(Chapter 6 – Spelling and word punctuation; Chapter 7 – Sentence punctuation.) 4