One of the most common mistakes that people make is the use of apostrophes, you know, those pesky superscript commas.

Here’s some apostrophe errors we saw recently:

  • “Lemon’s and orange’s now on sale”
  • “I cant see why she wont go”
  • “Its a big day”

Possessive Nouns

The first thing you should know about apostrophes is that they are used to indicate possessive nouns. A noun is a name of a thing, be it an object, a place or a person. Possessive nouns are words that show a noun possesses something. Let’s look at the following example: “I took the dog’s leash off”. The nouns in this sentence are “dog” and “leash”. The word “dog” is given an apostrophe because the leash belongs to the dog.

Here’s another example: “Jane’s mother wrote five letters to Jim”. The nouns in this sentence are “Jane”, “Jane’s mother”, “letters”, and “Jim”. However, when we look for possessive nouns, the only possessive noun in the sentence is “Jane’s mother”, and that is why the word “Jane” is given an apostrophe. The word “letters” is not given an apostrophe because “five letters” only describes the number of letters: “five” does not own the letters.

Plural nouns occur when the noun is more than one. The rule with apostrophes for plural nouns is a little trickier.

You add an apostrophe after nouns that end in “s”. For example, “Their mothers’ worked until they were sixty years of age”. The plural noun here is “mothers’”. You will note that instead of the apostrophe being situated between the “r” and the “s”, it is instead positioned at the end of the word.

For plural nouns that don’t end in “s”, you add an apostrophe and an “s”. For example, “Cat’s bells are made in Holland”.

For plural nouns that end in “s”, you can either add an apostrophe afterwards: “James’ presents were given to him after dinner”. Or else you can add an apostrophe followed by an “s”: “James’s presents were given to him after dinner”.

Given this rule, “Lemon’s and orange’s now on sale”, should be written “Lemons and oranges now on sale”.

Contraction

Apostrophes are also used to take the place of missing letters when you shorten a word or phrase. Think about commonly used negatives – in these cases, the ‘o’ in ‘not’ is replaced with an apostrophe, for example:

“Do not” is shortened to “don’t”
“Cannot” is shortened to “can’t”
“Is not” is shortened to “isn’t”.

Given this rule, “I cant see why she wont go”, should be written “I can’t see why she won’t go”. Its/It’s

Now we get to the most common mistake of all: “its” vs. “it’s”. This one’s very simple:

Its – means the thing belonging to it
It’s – means it is

Given this rule, “Its a big day” should be written “It’s a big day”.

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