Apostrophes: Possession with Singular, Plural and Multiple Nouns

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  • 0:02 Apostrophe Trouble
  • 0:28 Using Apostrophes
  • 1:53 Possessive vs. Plural
  • 3:30 Tricky Words
  • 4:24 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.

Confused about possessives and plurals? Don't know your from you're? Well, that's about to change! In this lesson, you'll learn just a few simple rules to help you figure out when to use apostrophes and why.

Apostrophe Trouble

For such a tiny punctuation mark, the apostrophe sure does get a lot of editorial agony. But figuring out how and when to use an apostrophe shouldn't feel like a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

In this lesson, we'll cover when you should and shouldn't use an apostrophe and why. By the end, you should be zooming through plurals, possessives, and even the tricky special cases without a hitch.

Apostrophes? Apostrophe's?

Sometimes, the rules are optional. But with apostrophes, there just isn't a shortcut: it's rules or bust.

The two big places that you'll see apostrophes are:

1. In contractions.
A contraction is when you join two words together into a shortened form and some of the letters drop out. For example, if you want to squeeze do not together into don't, you get rid of the o in not. Apostrophes show up in contractions to mark the place where the letter dropped out.

2. In possessives.
A possessive is a form of the noun that shows ownership. For example, if you say Pete's dog, the word Pete's is the possessive form of the name Pete, showing that the dog belongs to Pete.

If you're making the possessive of a noun that doesn't end in s, add apostrophe s to the end of the noun. If you're making the possessive of a noun that does end in s, add just an apostrophe on to the end.

This also applies if you use a plural noun to show that more than one person owns something. For example, what if you have three boys and the dog belongs to all three of them? You'd start with the plural noun boys, and then just add an apostrophe to the end: the boys' dog.

If you want to give the name of each boy, you only make the last one possessive: Pete, Thomas, and Leonard's dog.

Possessive vs. Plural

This can get tricky, because the possessive form of a noun sounds the same as a plural when you say it out loud.

Remember from earlier that the possessive is the form of a noun that indicates ownership. The plural is the form of the noun that indicates more than one thing. To form the plural of most nouns, you just add an s to the end, without an apostrophe.

You use an apostrophe only if you're showing possession. For example, if you're looking at the noun Pete, you could talk about:

Pete's dog: the dog that belongs to Pete. This is the possessive singular: just one person owning a dog.

Petes' dog: a dog that belongs to more than one guy called Pete. This is a plural possessive: more than one Pete, and they all own the dog.

Don't leave the apostrophe out of the possessive because then it looks like a plural and your sentence gets confusing. If you wrote Petes dog, it would just be two nouns hanging out with no relationship between them. It would literally mean something like 'a bunch of guys called Pete and a dog.' But that doesn't make any sense!

To figure out which form to use, just ask yourself: am I trying to describe possession or ownership? If yes, you need an apostrophe somewhere. If no, you don't need an apostrophe at all.

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