Possessive Pronouns & Contractions: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:07 The Apostrophe
  • 0:31 Contractions
  • 2:19 Possessive Pronouns
  • 4:02 Avoid Confusion
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

In writing, many people get possessive pronouns and contractions confused. In this lesson, we'll discuss the differences between the two, as well as how to use apostrophes in order to form contractions.

The Apostrophe

An apostrophe is that little punctuation mark at or near the end of a word that makes a noun possessive or helps to form a contraction. Sometimes, it can be tough to know exactly where to put it or when to use it, and errors with apostrophes are fairly common. In this lesson, we'll discuss how to use apostrophes properly to form contractions, as well as how to know the difference between a contraction and a possessive pronoun. (Hint: Possessive pronouns don't include apostrophes.)

Contractions

The word contract literally means to get smaller. Sure enough, when you use contractions when you write and speak, you're making words smaller. A contraction is a combination of two words, with an apostrophe taking the place of the letter or letters that have been omitted.

We tend to use contractions quite a bit when we speak, and in informal writing - like emails to friends - using contractions is perfectly acceptable. In formal academic and professional writing, which would include pretty much any assignment that you do for school and most writing you might do for work, you should avoid using them. Contractions are too conversational and informal to include in anything where you'll be trying to put your best writing skills on display.

There's no magic formula for figuring out how contractions are formed. Instead, familiarize yourself with some of the most commonly used contractions. For example:

I + am = I'm

you + are = you're

he + is = he's

she + is = she's

it + is = it's

we + are = we're

they + are = they're

I + have = I've

I + will = I'll

there + is = there's

who + is = who's

are + not = aren't

is + not = isn't

do + not = don't

can + not = can't

should + not = shouldn't

that + is = that's

let + us = let's

here + is = here's

should + have = should've

will + not = won't

Note that that last one, 'won't,' is a bit unusual, as it doesn't follow the usual pattern of just dropping a letter or two. With this contraction, three letters are dropped, and the letter 'o' and an apostrophe are added.

Possessive Pronouns

When thinking about contractions and apostrophe use, it's useful also to think about possessive pronouns, mainly so that you can avoid confusing them with contractions. You may recall learning that a pronoun is a word that takes the place of, or refers to, a noun. A possessive pronoun is one that shows ownership. Examples of possessive pronouns are:

my

mine

your

yours

his

her

hers

its

their

theirs

our

ours

whose

Note that the form of possessive pronoun that you'll need can depend on the structure of your sentence. For example, you'd say:

That is my book.

or

The book is mine.

You'd also say:

That is her car.

or

The car is hers.

Another example is:

That is their house.

or

The house is theirs.

Just take note of which possessive pronoun form to use based on whether the noun that is owned comes right after the possessive pronoun or if the possessive pronoun refers back to a noun that came earlier in the sentence.

As you consider commonly used possessive pronouns, think about whether you would need apostrophes in examples like 'hers,' 'ours,' and 'theirs.' You might start thinking that you'd write these possessive pronouns out like this:

The suitcase is her's.

or

Those groceries are our's.

or

Put our trash can next to their's.

If that's how you were envisioning writing these possessive pronouns, you'd be making a mistake. Remember that I mentioned earlier that possessive pronouns do not include apostrophes. People make the mistake of putting apostrophes in them quite often, but you should work to avoid making that mistake, because it can cost you points on essays and tests.

The words her's, our's, and their's don't exist. Instead, you should always write those words without the apostrophes.

Avoid Confusion

There's a reason that it's useful to consider contractions and possessive pronouns at the same time, even though these two types of words have very different functions. Several contractions sound just like possessive pronouns, but there's a key difference among them - other than the fact that they have different meanings and serve different roles in sentences. Just as before, the major difference to keep in mind is this: Possessive pronouns do not include apostrophes. Here are some examples of sound-alike contractions and possessive pronouns:

it's / its

You could say, 'It's going to rain today,' using the contraction 'it's' for 'it is.' The sentence, 'The cat chased its tail,' makes use of the possessive pronoun 'its.'

there's / theirs

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