How to Master Apostrophes with Ease

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Photo by Brian Kelly

Photo by David Goerhing

Above are just two (technically three) examples of an error that pervades the English-speaking world almost as thickly as the incorrect use of the word “literally.” So I thought I’d do a quick, yet comprehensive, apostrophe usage guide that will actually be easy to understand.

When Apostrophes are Needed:

Possessives – when a noun owns (possesses!) another noun. Usually you indicate a word is possessive by adding an apostrophe and an ‘s’. Example: Stephanie’s blog means the blog owned by or associated with Stephanie.

Contractions – when you contract two words so tightly together that some of the letters pop out, leaving only an apostrophe. Example: don’t (from do not), I’ve (from I have), there’s (from there is), y’all (from you all – it’s a word, people!). [Bonus tip: if you’re writing dialogue in an accent, you use apostrophes wherever you drop letters, like you drop the ‘g’ in shootin’ the breeze. That’s how we Texans talk, anyhow.]

When Apostrophes are NOT Needed:

Plurals – a word that indicates there are more than one of something. We pluralize most words by adding an ‘s’ at the end. But NOT an apostrophe. Example: houses (more than one house), apostrophes (more than one apostrophe).

Singular Third Person Present Tense Verbs – actions done by one person you are talking about (not to); add an ‘s’ but NOT an apostrophe. Words like gets, owns, drives, writes. For instance, I walk, and you walk, but he walks. NOT he walk’s.

When it Gets Complicated

Plural possessives – when more than one thing owns something else, add an ‘s’ and then an apostrophe. For instance: the girls’ hair is red (two girls have red hair) versus the girl’s hair is red (one girl has red hair).

It’s vs. Its

Okay, so the possessives and contractions rule seemed pretty great, but, as seems to be inevitable with the English language, there was this one word that rebelled: It. You know; the giant brain from A Wrinkle in Time. I don’t know why the Powers That Be deemed it necessary to eliminate the apostrophe from possessive its, because context should in any case make the meaning clear. Probably just to torture kids in English class. But the standing rule is this:

It’s is a contraction for it is.

Its is the possessive form of it.

So there you have it.

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About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.

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  1. Hooray, grammar! Love it… and man but the apostrophes make me cringe a bit… I do still have trouble with it’s vs. its though. *shakes head*

  2. I’ve nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award. ( Thanks for the post..keep blogging

  3. Great article! Hopefully a few people learn from it!

  4. It’s always awesome when someone writes about the apostrophe conundrum. There are time when I run afoul of the unnecessary addition, and I scratch my head at the little red or green wavy line under the word. Loved your analogy on the words packed tightly together so one pops out, that’s exactly how I imagine it too!

  5. Yay! I’m an apostrophe Nazi too . . . It’s not that hard, we just have to concentrate a bit.
    Kaitlin: its is the equivalent of hers and his. .. .so you don’t need the apostrophe.
    It’s- is just a contraction for it is. . . .

  6. Heh… apostrophes rarely give me trouble, it’s their lower cousin the comma that makes me tear my hair out. ;P

    excellent post, though!

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