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  ENGLISH GRAMMAR for ESL learners  


APOSTROPHES

Correct use of apostrophes in English.



Apostrophes in English are used for possession and contraction.
They are not used to form plurals.

POSSESSION :

Apostrophes are used to indicate possession in nouns (but not in pronouns: hers, ours, theirs....).
  • The girl's bicycle.
  • The bicycle is hers (not her's).
To show possession, 's is added to a singular noun (even if the noun ends in 's').
  • John's car.
  • James's guitar.
To show possession in a plural noun, the apostrophe is added after the plural s.
  • My parents' house is near the coast.
  • Visitors are not allowed into the students' rooms.
  • Witches' hats are pointed.
If the word is plural but does not end in s, simply add an ‘s for possession.
  • The children’s playground is beside the school.
CONTRACTION :

Apostrophes are used to indicate missing letters in contractions.
For example:
  • He's is a contracted form of he is.
  • It's is a contracted form of it is.
  • Its is a possessive pronoun like 'my', 'his', 'her', etc.
    • The dog was chewing its toy.
      It's (it is) its toy so that's (that is) ok.
  • Who's is a contracted form of who is.
    • Who's (who is) the owner of the red car?
    • Whose car was damaged during the storm?
PLURALS :

Apostrophes are sometimes mistakenly used in plurals.
Remember: if there is no possession or contraction, there is no apostrophe.
The plural of most English nouns is formed by adding s or es.
  • One fork, two forks (not two fork's).
  • One inch, two inches.
  • One spoonful of cream, two spoonfuls of cream (not two spoonful's).
Exception: For the sake of clarity, an apostrophe can be used to show the plural of single letters.
  • Remember to dot your i's and cross your t's.
  • Mind your p’s and q’s!
FAMILY NAMES :

There is no apostrophe in the plural of family names (to refer to the whole family).
An apostrophe is used only to indicate possession.
  • The Windsors are coming for dinner.
  • The blue car belongs to the Windsors. It's (it is) the Windsors' car.
NUMBERS and DATES :

To make a number plural we simply add an s. We do not add an apostrophe.
  • The airline added three 747s to their fleet.
  • The witness was a man in his 40s.
  • The Beatles became famous in the 1960s.
If the year is contracted, an apostrophe indicates the missing numbers.
  • Jazz became very popular in the '30s.
If some occurrence belongs to a specific year, an apostrophe is added:
  • 2019 was our best year.
  • 2019’s results were better than those of the previous years.


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Please note that British English spelling is used on this website.

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