ACT English Practice: Apostrophes

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  • 0:02 Apostrophes
  • 1:29 Problem 1
  • 2:39 Problem 2
  • 3:51 Problem 3
  • 5:30 Problem 4
  • 6:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Not quite confident in your apostrophe skills? In this lesson, you'll get some practice working through ACT English questions with apostrophes, including plurals, possessives, plural possessives, and those tricky little words like their/they're/there.


Remember that an apostrophe is a punctuation mark indicating either possession or a place where letters have been left out of a word. For example, let's take the case of a boy and his dog.

If we want to show that the dog belongs to the boy, we'd say, The boy's dog. To make the singular possessive, you add the apostrophe s.

But what if the dog belongs to more than one boy? The boys' dog is a dog that belongs to several boys. To make the plural possessive, you take the plural form boys and add an apostrophe, since the boys's dog would sound silly.

If you want to name the boys specifically, you'd list out the names and make only the last one possessive: That is Joe, Sam, Bill, and Gary's dog.

Those two examples showed possession. The other use for apostrophes is to show where letters have been left out of a contraction. Doesn't is an example of this: the words does and not were smushed together, and the letter o got left out, so now there's an apostrophe marking the spot where the o used to be.

Also remember the tricky words: with it's/its, your/you're, and their/they're/there, you'll need to pay very close attention to which form is which.

Ok, ready to try some practice problems? Here you go.

Problem 1

We had a dog and a cat when I was growing up, and part of my weekly chore rotation was to wash the dogs bed.

(A) the dogs bed
(B) the dog's bed
(C) the bed of the dog
(D) the bed, the dogs' one

Take a look at the underlined part: the dogs bed. Is there a possession or a contraction going on here?

It's a possession: we're talking about a bed that belongs to the dog. So is this the right form to use for possession? If not, can you spot the way to correct it? The answer's coming up, so pause the video if you need more time to think.

The correct answer is (B). In this sentence, we need to use an apostrophe to show possession: it's the bed that belongs to the dog. The sentence makes it clear that there is only one dog. So to form the correct possessive form, we'll take the singular noun dog and add apostrophe s to get dog's. Technically, choice (C) also shows singular possession, but this is unnecessarily wordy, so (B) is correct.

Problem 2

How about another one?

During the exam, the teacher walked around the room, checking all the students desks for signs of cheating.

(A) checking all the students desks
(B) checking all the student's desks
(C) checking all the students' desks
(D) checking all the students, the desks

In the answer choices, you can see that it's the word students that's being changed. So how is the word being used here? Is it a contraction? Nope; there's no letter missing. So it isn't a contraction. Is it possessive? Yes: these are the desks that belong to the students, so students has to be possessive.

From the word all, we also know that students has to be plural. Can you pick the correct plural possessive form from the answer choices?

If you picked (C), you got it! Plural possessives are formed by just adding an apostrophe to the end of the plural form. So you'd take students, which is already plural, and then just stick the apostrophe on at the end. Ta-dah: it's possessive!

Problem 3

Ready for one that's a little harder? Here you go:

Using adhesive pads on the tips of it's fingers, the gecko can climb up walls, windows, and even tiles with ease.

(A) it's fingers
(B) its' fingers
(C) its fingers
(D) their fingers

Oooh, its and it's - remember the difference?

  • it's: contraction for it is
  • its: possessive of it

Can you spot what that it's is doing in this sentence? Is this a contraction for it is? Would the sentence make sense if it read …adhesive pads on the tips of it is fingers…?

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