NOTE: All these articles are based on British grammar and the techniques I used to help myself, they are by no means definitive.


Where do apostrophes go? They can be easily confused because sometimes the rules are not what you would expect. For example, the rule of the possessive tells us that the apostrophe goes before the s, Ben’s and Val’s, if we’re talking about something that belongs to an object, an it, then the possessive is its. However, if there is already an s on the end of a possessive than there’s no extra s: Jones’, but in this case some people consider Jones’s acceptable. However is there is a double s an extra s is never needed: Princess’ Not all possessives need apostrophes: His and Her.

 

Possessive

Ben’s Ben’s book
Val’s Val’s book
Its Its book
*Jones’ Jones’ book
Princess’s The Princess’s book*
His His book
Her Her book
Hers Hers (her book) cost more than mine
His His (his book) cost more than mine

 

Apostrophes are also used in contractions, which people often find confusing, such as would not becoming wouldn’t. In this case they denote the missing letters where the words have been pulled together. This is particularly troublesome in the case of the previously mentioned ‘its’. As the contraction of it is, it’s, uses an apostrophe the possessive doesn’t. If this was supposed to make it less confusing then it really didn’t work.

 

Contractions

It’s It is cold It’d It would/could
Couldn’t I could not Could’ve I could have
Shouldn’t I should not Should’ve I should have
Wouldn’t I would not Would’ve I would have
Can’t I cannot Can becomes could in this context

 

But there’s also a few extra complications such as plurals where the apostrophe moves based on the plural s.

 

Plural Possessive

The Bens’ (as in there are two people named Ben) The Bens’ Club (Two people named Ben co-own this club)
Ladies’ (plural) Ladies’ Night
Lady’s (singular) The Lady’s Night
Guys’ (Plural) Guys’ Night
Guy’s (Singular, also a name) (The) Guy’s Night

 

Bens’ is the easiest to understand because we know there are two people named Ben so we simply add the plural s on the end and it becomes Bens, there are multiple Bens. As there’s already an s we simply add an apostrophe as we would for Jones’ and so it becomes Bens’.

In the case of lady the word changes when it becomes plural and the y, Lady, becomes ie, Ladies. If we move the apostrophe to before the s it becomes Ladie’s, which would be Scottish slang and the possessive of Ladie, which is actually a young man or a boy.

Guy has a y so why doesn’t this change? It doesn’t change because there is a vowel before the y so it remains Guys instead of Guies, which isn’t a word in English, as far as I know. Why is this? Because the English language likes to mess with your head.

 

Jones’ Versus Jones’s

*There is some debate in the case of words like Jones’ as to whether a name with an s on the end should be apostrophised as Jones’s. This seems to depend on age and education and location but to double the s means you would have to say double s. So instead of saying Jones you would try to say Joness. Personally I prefer the single s method because it is easier to remember and say. It also simplifies the rules as putting the apostrophe before an extra s could cause confusion when writing words like ladies’ (ladie’s/ladies’s?).

*Correction from Princess’ to Princess’s made 11/03/2018


For more writing advice see my Advice Page.
NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.

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