The Apostrophe

Last updated: June 15, 2017 at 0:02 am
apostrophe photo

Is it the basket’s ball or the basketball?


The apostrophe is a punctuation mark or punctuation device in the English language which has several uses or functions.

  1. The apostrophe shows possession.
  2. The apostrophe is used in place of missing letters in words.

The Apostrophe Shows Possession

Examine the following sentences:

  1. The man’s car is on the road.
  2. The boy’s books are in his bag.
  3. The girl’s mom is taking her to school.
  4. The teacher’s pen is on the table.
  5. The worker’s tools are on the table.

The subjects of the above five sentences are: man, boy, girl, teacher and worker. Each of these subjects possess or own something: car, book, mom, pen and tools. The apostrophe ( ‘ ) followed by the letter s is used to indicate that the subject possesses something. That is for singular subjects. But what about plural subjects? For plural subjects, the rule is a bit different.

The Apostrophe Showing Possession With Plural Subjects

Below are some example of plural subjects which possess. The apostrophe is used to indicate that these plural subjects possess something. In the examples below, the plural subjects all end in the letter s.

The boys’ bicycles are on the road.

The girls’ party start at 7 pm.

The teachers’ training program will begin next week.

The subjects of the sentences above are: boys, girls and teachers. Each of these plural subjects possess or own something: bicycles, party and training program. When the subject is plural and ends in s, just add an apostrophe after the s to form the possessive, or, in other words, indicate possession.

But there are some plural subjects that don’t end in s. What happens when the plural subject doesn’t end in s?

Showing Possession for Plural Subjects Which Don’t End in S

Examine the following sentences.

  1. The fishermen’s boats are in the harbour.
  2. The women’s section is on the other side.
  3. The men’s watch are very expensive.

In the examples above, there are three subjects which possess something: fishermen, women and men. All of these subjects are examples of plural subjects which do not end in s. When the subject is plural but does not end in s, treat it as you would a singular subject in the possessive form: just an apostrophe + s.

The Apostrophe is Used to Show Omission of Letters in Words

By why would we want to omit (leave out) letters from words? We may omit letters from words for the following reasons:

  1. To give our writing a poet sound or poetic effect.
  2. To contract our words into shorter or lesser words.

Omission for Poetic Effect

The following stanza, extracted from the poem “The Call of Spring” by Patrick Carpen, contains a word in which a letter was deliberately left out. The apostrophe was used in its place. This was done for poetic effect.

A butterfly with rainbow colors,

Runs wildly as a vine.

Passing o’er the flowers

In paths of strange designs.

The letter ‘v’ was left out of the word “over”. The new word “o’er” is a poetic sounding word often used by poets for special effects.

Omission of Letters for Contraction

Sometimes, we omit letters to contract two words into one. Examples:

wasn’t (was not)

didn’t (did not)

Sometimes, we use an apostrophe to show that a long word has been shortened. Example:

Con’t (continued)

What other examples can you think of?

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