A Guide to the Apostrophe In English: Rules and Errors
History of the Apostrophe
- Origin: Introduced in the 16th century for elision (omitting letters).
- Evolution: Became standardised for indicating possession and contractions.
How You Should Use an Apostrophe
- Indicating Possession:
- Singular noun: The brother's house. (there is one brother).
- Plural noun: The brothers' wives. (we are talking about two or more brothers!)
- Forming Contractions:
- Do not = Don't.
- I am = I'm.
Most Common Contractions In English
How Not to Use an Apostrophe
- Do not use for plurals: Incorrect - *Banana's for sale.
- Avoid in possessive pronouns: Incorrect - *It's tail is fluffy.
Common Mistakes with the Apostrophe
The apostrophe can be tricky for many learners. Common errors often occur in possessive forms and contractions. Recognising and understanding these common mistakes can significantly improve your written English.
|*My mothers' car
|My mother's car
|*it's house (possessive)
Changing Patterns of Use
The use of the apostrophe has evolved over time, particularly in informal writing and digital communication. Understanding these changing patterns helps in keeping up with contemporary English usage.
The Apostrophe in Other Languages
The apostrophe is used differently in various languages, which can be interesting for ESL learners. Some languages use it for contractions, while others use different mechanisms for possession and contraction.
|Used in contractions, like l'homme (the man), but not for possession.
|Used in contractions, such as nell'arte (in the art).
|Used for omissions, e.g. I love you.
|Separates letters to change pronunciation.
You can find some useful exercises on the Student site about apostrophes.
Error Correction: Genitive & Possessive Adjectives
Find the errors in sentences containing the genitive (John's) and possessive adjectives (his, my, our, etc.)
Exercise Number: 1G17
Apostrophe Use Error Correction
Are these sentences containing (or not containing!) an apostrophe correct or not?
Exercise Number: 1G70
Genitive Error Correction
Are these sentences, which contain genitives, correct or not?
Exercise Number: 1G32
Apostrophe: Is or Has?
Each of these sentences contains an apostrophe - is it being used for possession or 'is' or 'has'?
Exercise Number: 1G36
'Is' or Possession Exercise
Is the apostrophe used for the verb "to be" or to talk about possession?
Exercise Number: 1G69