Apostrophes, Contractions,

and Other Headaches


Contractions and their obnoxious little friends (it’s and its, for example) are confusing for a lot of people. I think it’s because of the apostrophes. Apostrophes cause trouble. Somehow they make our brains rotate inside our skulls, and we end up doing everything backwards. That’s why you see signs hanging in store windows that say, “Watermelon’s $3 each!” and “Its always a good time to check your cars tire’s!”

A contraction is a word that has been shortened by removing a letter or two. The apostrophe shows where those missing letters would have (or would’ve) been.

An apostrophe is also used to indicate the possessive form of a noun: George’s hat, the giraffe’s tail, Germany’s southern border.

The possessive form of a pronoun does not get an apostrophe: hers, yours, ours. And you almost never need an apostrophe to change a noun from singular to plural.


Learn those few simple rules and you’ll avoid making so many of the mistakes common in public communication these days. Here’s a quick lesson on plurals, apostrophes, and contractions.


To change a singular noun to plural, you usually add -s or -es:

“Would someone please get these boxes off my foot?”

“My uncle was born in the 1800s. His seven sons are all dead.”

“Are your dogs going to bark like that through the entire wedding?”


Use an apostrophe to form a contraction:

“I can’t believe you’re wearing that shirt to your graduation.”

“We’ve been waiting here for twelve days.”

“Do you think she’s going to notice that llama in the garage?”


And use an apostrophe to form a noun’s possessive:

“Are you going to Francis’s retirement party?”

“I think my cat’s behavior is becoming a little peculiar.”

“Excuse me, sir, but this is the children’s department.”


Possessive pronouns are already

possessive (no apostrophes needed):

“Those forks are ours.”

“That knife is theirs.”

“This spoon is yours.”

“Whose corkscrew is that?”






(Excerpted from Writing Rules!)