Welcome back to Red Pen Tidbits! I introduced this new series last week with an overview about grammar and usage.
Every first and third Thursday of the month we’ll look a little closer at some aspect of grammar or usage. This week, we’ll check out apostrophes!
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I write, an apostrophe tries to sneak into
place’s places it doesn’t belong. The pesky little punctuation mark is even more problematic when it comes to words that end in -s (especially if they’re plural).
What in the world is an apostrophe?
noun: apos·tro·phe \ ə-ˈpäs-trə-(ˌ)fē \
: a mark ‘ used to indicate the omission of letters or figures, the possessive case, or the plural of letters or figures
–Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary
So, let’s start with contractions!
Contractions are formed when you smoosh two (or more) words together and omit letters in the process. You use an apostrophe to represent the missing letters.
– He’s (he is) not the villain in the story.
– When we finish our class, let’s (let us) go to the movies.
—– NOTE: let’s not lets — this is a common error for some writers.
– She lied to her mom when she should’ve (should have) told the truth.
—– NOTE: have not of — this is also a common error for some writers.
– Although he didn’t (did not) have any money, he still made an excellent present.
—– NOTE: didn’t not did’nt — one more common error for some writers.
Wait! You said two or more words! I want an example of more… pretty please?
Perfect! This is where it gets fun. (Don’t tell any other English teachers that I like these kinds of contractions… Got it?) **Keep in mind that these types of contractions are often saved for dialogue, especially when dialect calls for them.**
– I shouldn’t’ve (should not have) left the kids alone with makeup for ten minutes.
– He oughtn’t’ve (ought not have) asked that question based on the teacher’s expression.
NOTE: If you simply separate the words and add the letters back, you can see if an apostrophe should or shouldn’t (should not) go there.
Can I ever break this rule? No.
These are simply the singular form of nouns (not pronouns) showing possession (ownership or membership). They end in an apostrophe plus -s (‘s) even when the word ends with an -s.
– I wanted to borrow Johnny’s car, but he needed it for his date. (ownership: the car that belongs to Johnny)
– She decided to read all of Charles Dickens’s stories this year. (ownership: the stories written by Charles Dickens)
– The whole family cheered for Paul’s team as the athletes ran through the banner. (membership: the team that Paul is part of)
– We went to Jane and David’s house for Christmas. (ownership: the house that belongs to both Jane and David)
—- NOTE: When more than one person owns a single item, the apostrophe plus -s goes after the last person named.
– When she opened the door to her son’s room, she instantly knew he had forgotten to do his laundry. (ownership: the room that her son occupies)
—– NOTE: Possessive nouns that are not names are often confused with nouns that are plural –> She told her sons to clean their rooms. (The sons (plural) are not possessing anything.)
NOTE: Possessive nouns are followed by what they possess. Double-check to see if you are meaning possession or simply trying to make a noun plural.
Can I ever break this rule? YES (times two)!
1. Some writers say you can leave off the -s after the apostrophe if the singular word already ends in an -s. Either way is accepted, but be consistent.
— She decided to read all of Charles Dickens’ stories this year. (The apostrophe is still there, and Dickens is still one person even without the extra -s.)
2. If the “owner” is an inanimate object, then you don’t use the -‘s.
— After he left the restaurant, he opened his car door to find a strange note. (The door belongs to the car, but we don’t need to say car’s door — our meaning is clear without the apostrophe.)
These are simply the plural form of nouns (not pronouns) showing possession (ownership or membership). They end in an apostrophe (s’) when the word ends with an -s or an apostrophe plus -s (‘s) when the plural word doesn’t end in an -s.
– We tried watch the fairies’ wings, but they fluttered too quickly. (ownership: the wings that belong to multiple fairies)
– After they got to the party, she counted all of the witches’ hats. (ownership: the hats that belong to multiple witches)
– The whole family cheered for the boys’ team as the athletes ran through the banner. (membership: the team that multiple boys are part of)
– When she walked onto fishermen’s boat, she knew she had a lot to learn. (ownership: the boat that several fishermen work on)
NOTE: Remember that possessive nouns are followed by what they possess. Double-check to see if you are meaning possession or simply trying to make a noun plural without it possessing anything.
Can I ever break this rule? No.
This week’s challenge is poetry! Write a sticky-note poem (a poem written on a sticky note) OR a 55-word story that makes correct use of the apostrophe rules.
Then, share your poem or story in the comments section below or on social media (and link it back to this post). You’ve got this!
Coming up next…
Next time (May 17th), we’ll be looking at the lovely difference between who and whom!
I hope these quick little “tidbits” help you on your writing journey! Here are a few extra resources if you need a bit more information or practice:
- “Apostrophe Rules” by Brittney Ross
- “How to Use an Apostrophe” by The Oatmeal
- Apostrophe Practice Online
6 thoughts on “Red Pen Tidbits 2: Apostrophes”
I’m loving these tidbits. Thank you for sharing.
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Thank you Heather!!
I’m happy to continue this series with any other tidbits you may want to see!
Looking forward to the who vs. whom grammar lesson. I screw it up all the time. Never understood how to test for correct usage.
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I hope it helps you tomorrow! Thanks for commenting!