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Apostrophe

In English, there are three main uses for apostrophes, one of which (number three below) is going out of style.

1. Forming possessives

Apostrophes create possessive nouns. Singular nouns are usually made possessive by adding an apostrophe followed by an s (e.g., the book belonging to the boy becomes the boy’s book). Plural nouns are usually made possessive by adding an apostrophe (e.g., the houses belonging to the families becomes the families’ houses). There are exceptions. For instance, irregular plural nouns that do not end in s (e.g., women) are usually pluralized in the manner of singular nouns (women’s).

2. Standing for missing letters

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An apostrophe takes the place of an omitted element in a word. For example, it stands for the missing letters no in the contraction can’t (short for cannot)

3. Pluralization

Apostrophes are sometimes used to pluralize acronyms, numbers, or letters—for example, 1970’s, ABC’s, FAQ’s. But this type of apostrophe is becoming less common, and many English authorities now recommend against it. Many 21st-century publications instead use 1970s, ABCs, FAQs.

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Comments

  1. My understanding is that the use of the apostrophe “s” in a possessive noun is a contraction of a noun and a possessive pronoun. For example, in the sentence, “That is John’s favorite book,” the word “John’s” is actually a contraction for “John, his”, so the sentence without the contraction would be, “That is John, his favorite book.” Since “its” is itself a possessive pronoun, and not a contraction of a noun and a possessive pronoun, it does not have an apostrophe. In the sentence, “The book’s cover is torn,” the word “book’s” is a contraction of “book, its”. So the sentence without the contraction is, “The book, its cover is torn.” I can’t remember where I learned this, maybe after asking a college professor the question of why the possessive word “its” does not have an apostrophe. Maybe the answer was incorrect, but it has always made sense to me.

  2. shonangreg says:

    I see that the 1970s or the 1970’s can work, but how about the abc’s? How do you write this without an apostrophe? It seems we need something to separate words we read as a series of letters from a final “s”. Otherwise me saying, “There are two gs in my name” makes no sense.

  3. csj_saMeeWeMs0 says:

    I think that this post gives a good overview of the functions of the apostrophe. However, it could use a little more detail, especially with verbs that end in S. Many people continue to struggle with the usage (typically the younger generation) and I think going into depth about specific instances could improve people’s understanding of the topic. Many of the other posts on this site about parts of speech and punctuation marks are very descriptive, so I think this post could use more information like the others but overall this was informative. I found the bit about pluralization to be really interesting.

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