Thread: On apostrophes
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Old April 15th 07, 04:59 PM posted to
Dave Heil Dave Heil is offline
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First recorded activity by RadioBanter: Jul 2006
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Default On apostrophes

"John Smith" insists that his version of using the apostrophe is
correct. Those pointing out his mistaken ideas are called morons and
imbeciles. Three seconds of Google search brings enlightenment.

For the apostrophe-challenged from:


1. To show OMISSION

What's a nice kid like me doing in a place like this?

We started with two words, what and is, but because this is informal
writing, we want to express it informally, so we omit a letter from the
word is. Because we're well brought up little Vegemites (remember?), we
let people know what we've done.

I could've danced all night ... (could have, not could 'of')

It's time for breakfast (It is time ...)

It's been raining all day. (It has been raining ...)

So, in future whenever you see an apostrophe, make a conscious effort to
work out what the original word was before the letter was omitted.
Sometimes, as in the case of could've and would've, more than one letter
has been omitted.

This will establish good habits and alert you to the role of the apostrophe.


We went to Marmaduke's restaurant for dinner. (Marmaduke owns the
restaurant; it is the restaurant of Marmaduke.)

Notice how the apostrophe comes at the end of the noun (Marmaduke) and
is accompanied by the letter 's' - a bit like a chaperone.

We knew whom to blame for the missing pie; there was cream all over the
dog's whiskers!

We're only referring to one dog and it owns the whiskers (and the pie
and a very satisfied smile, no doubt).

Some words sound awkward when an apostrophe 's' is added:

Jesus's disciples.

The accepted form here is to just use the 's' apostrophe:

Jesus' disciples.

N.B. This only applies to names of Biblical or historical significance
e.g. Jesus, Moses, Zeus, Demosthenes, Ramses ... the rest of us whack in
the apostrophe and add an 's.'

Moses' followers, Zeus' priests, Demosthenes' teachings, Ramses' pyramid

Others don't have the same clumsy sound:

The princess's chair.

The important thing is to be consistent in your use of the form -
nothing is writ in stone!

Confusion arises when the apostrophe is used with a plural noun.

At the zoo, the children were most interested in seeing the lions' den.

More than one lion owns the den, so we add the apostrophe after the 's'
(this is the den of the lions).

So, the general rule is:

* if there's one owner - add an apostrophe and then 's'
* if there are two or more owners - add 's' then an apostrophe.

However, (and of course you're not surprised to hear this, are you?),
there are exceptions to this rule.

For words which form their plural by changing internal letters (instead
of adding 's'), the apostrophe comes before the 's'.

It was the children's turn to wash up.

Children is already a plural word, so we don't need to make it doubly
plural by adding 's' apostrophe; however, we do need to indicate the
idea of ownership, so we use apostrophe 's'.

Some other words which follow this rule a men, women, people.

When you have 'double possession' - when two or more people (or
subjects) own one item and both (or all) of their names are mentioned,
the apostrophe is applied only to the second (or last) name.

We had coffee at Ermintrude and Marmaduke's mansion.

When you're using names that end in -S, you follow the same rules as
with any other name and add apostrophe S:

Chris's car, Bridget Jones's Diary.

Plural names also follow the same rules:

Bill Thomas's car; the Thomases' new house (add -es to names that end in
S to indicate plural form).

The apostrophe is also used with many expressions of time (to show that
the time period owns the other noun):

an hour's time; a year's holiday

BUT notice that we do not use the apostrophe with possessive pronouns
(remember, these are the little guys who step in and lend a paw to nouns).

After dinner at Marmaduke's restaurant, we went back to his place for

The bird's feathers were ruffled. (The bird owns the feathers.)

The bird ruffled its feathers. (The bird owns the feathers, but the
pronoun its is being used instead of the noun, so there is NO apostrophe.

You'll see it's and its used incorrectly nearly every single day and in
places where it should never happen. An easy way to make sure you never
confuse the two is to ask yourself (do this quietly, you don't want to
alarm those around you), if the words it is can be substituted in the
sentence- if the answer is yes, then whack in the old apostrophe.

If the answer is no, then sit on your hands so you won't be tempted.

The bird ruffled its (it is?) feathers. (NO)

It's (it is?) a lovely day. (YES)

To summarise, here is a good way to check if you need an apostrophe -
for future reference:

If you can substitute the use of "of" then you use the apostrophe.

e.g. This is Marmaduke's house ... it is the house of Marmaduke.

The children's mother phoned ... the mother of the children phoned.

Three months' work ... the work of three months.


If "John" likes, he can print this and keep it near his computer.

Dave K8MN