Grammar Boot Camp Part 1: Apostrophes

apostrophes-for-saleThis blog post is the first of a new series called “Grammar Boot Camp.” Don’t look so intimidated! My boot camps are certainly rigorous but by the end of it, you will feel primed for the writing sections on the ACT and SAT, essay assignments in English class, and AP English exams.

Let’s get started with one of the basics, those little buggers that hang out at the ends of words and sentences in a world of their own: apostrophes. Believe it or not, these guys have rules, too.

What is an apostrophe?

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark (‘). It is different from quotation marks (“). Apostrophes are used to indicate possession of nouns and pronouns, primarily, although they are also used in contractions (words like can’t, won’t, didn’t) and the omission of numbers (class of ’12).

Possession: Singular Nouns

Singular nouns are nouns that refer to only one person, thing, place, or idea (i.e., dog, rain, notebook, car, love). Singular nouns are “possessive” when they are shown grammatically to “possess” an object (i.e., to show that the “book” belongs to “Jennifer”).

Rule 1: To indicate possession with singular nouns, simply add an apostrophe and an s. (‘s)

book of Jennifer —–> Jennifer’s book

umbrella of child ——> child’s umbrella

dog of Pete —> Pete’s dog

Note: This is the case regardless, even if the singular noun ends in s. Although you might see these written differently in newspapers and magazines, proper grammar dictates that even if a noun ends in s, it still adheres to the singular noun apostrophe rule.

hours of class —> the class’s hours

color of canvas –> the canvas’s color

lawn of Mr. Jones –> Mr. Jones’s lawn

Note: The only exception to this rule are singular, proper nouns that refer to historical or biblical figures. In this case, these nouns only need a single apostrophe.

Example: Jesus’ robe, Moses’ staff, Alcibiades’ actions, Socrates’ philosophy

Possession: Plural Nouns

Plural nouns are nouns that refer to more than one person, thing, idea, or place (i.e., dogs, notebooks, people, children, trains).

Rule 2: To indicate possession with plural nouns, first make sure the noun is in plural form, and then simply add one apostrophe.

car of the Smiths —> Smiths’ car

patterns of blankets —> blankets’ patterns

books of ancient archives —> ancient archives’ books

Note: There are exceptions to this rule, with regard to plural nouns that do not end in s. For plural nouns that do not end in s, you should add an apostrophe and an s. For example:

toys of children —> children’s toys

wings of geese —> geese’s wings

voice of the people —> people’s voice

Contractions and Omissions

Last but not least, apostrophes are used in omissions. They indicate that parts of a word have been omitted for ease’s sake. These include contractions like the following:

can not —-> can’t

did not —> didn’t

would not —> wouldn’t

will not —> won’t

They also include omissions of numbers, as in the following:

class of 2012 —-> class of ’12

taxes of 1989 —> taxes of ’89

The only rule you should adhere to with regard to contractions and omissions is not to use them in academic writing. Contractions and omissions are informal. Your essays should be absolutely free of them!

Additional Reading:

This is only the beginning! Stay tuned for more grammatical tips in the coming weeks:

Check out the previous post in this series:

About the author: Kathleen McGunagle is a senior in Princeton University’s English department and Interdisciplinary Humanities Certificate Program. Concentrating in British Renaissance Literature, she has completed a thesis this spring on Shakespeare and epistolary culture (“Shakespeare’s Written World: Letters in Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, and King Lear”). Kathleen is an Academic Peer Adviser at Princeton, tutor through Princeton Tutoring, and avid performer. She has recently returned from a year of study at Worcester College, Oxford, and will be attending Boston University’s M.F.A. program in Creative Writing as a fiction writer next fall.



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