Saving English One Word At A Time.

An English tutoring column by Ralph Schatzki who would like you to join him in the task of saving the language, step-by-step, word-by-word, one person at a time.

Apostrophes!! - Saving English One Word At A Time. Pity the apostrophe: it is so often misused. Promote apostrophe awareness! Let's use them correctly!


Pity the apostrophe:

it is so often misused. How many times have you read a sentence like this:

"I love Paris- it's nightlife is the best!"

Its Function

The apostrophe serves two functions: it can indicate either that some letters are missing- a contraction- or that something belongs to someone or something- a possessive. An example of a contraction is where "can not" becomes "can't," the apostrophe indicating the missing "n" and "o." An example of a possessive apostrophe is where one writes "Mary's book," indicating that the book belongs to Mary.

Most of the time this distinction is very clear, but sometimes it can be a little more tricky. For instance, by itself the word "Mary's" could be either a contraction or a possessive. Fortunately, context usually helps determine which:

"Mary's going to the store"
is clearly a contraction ("Mary is"), while

"Mary's dog ran away"
is undoubtedly a possessive (the dog belongs to Mary).

Its Use in Pronouns

Unfortunately, it gets a bit harder. Pronouns ("I," "you," "he," etc.) pose the biggest difficulty. Still, there is a simple rule that will prevent mistakes: When using pronouns, apostrophes always mean contractions, and contractions only. "You're" is a contraction, while "your" is possessive:

"You're going to get your driver's license."

In other words, "You are going to get the driver's license belonging to you.

Please don't confuse "you're" and "your."

The biggest offender, however, is "it's" vs. "its." Still, the rule is simple. The first is a contraction, "it is," while the second is the possessive of "it:"

"Do you like tennis?"

"Yes, it's a great game because its rules are so simple."

The problem with pronouns is that, unlike other nouns, they have special possessive words that do not have apostrophes. If you remember the simple rule, though, you won't go wrong!

Here's to good writing!

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About Column Contributor

Ralph Schatzki

A proofreader, editor, author, math teacher and tutor, professional opera singer, ex-lawyer (by his own choice), sports fan, husband and father. He has lived on both American coasts, as well as in the southwest and midwest, and overseas in Thailand for more than thirteen years. He loves to read, write and perform, to watch sports, and to spend time with his family.
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