A Guide to the Apostrophe In English: Rules and Errors

History of the Apostrophe

How You Should Use an Apostrophe

Most Common Contractions In English

Most common contractions in English using apostrophes
Uncontracted Contracted
do not don't
I am I'm
you are you're
he is he's
she is she's
it is it's
we are we're
they are they're
will not won't
can not can't
have not haven't
has not hasn't
had not hadn't
should not shouldn't
was not wasn't
could not couldn't
did not didn't

How Not to Use an Apostrophe

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.

Common Apostrophe Errors
Common Error Should Be
*My mothers' car My mother's car
*it's house (possessive) its house

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.

Changing Apostrophe Usage Patterns
Older Usage Contemporary Usage
cannot can't
will not won't

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.

Use of the Apostrophe in Different Languages
Language Usage
French Used in contractions, like l'homme (the man), but not for possession.
Italian Used in contractions, such as nell'arte (in the art).
Greek Used for omissions, e.g. I love you.
Ukrainian 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

© 2001-2024 esl-lounge.com