This isn’t the first article I’ve written on using apostrophes, and given the confusion surrounding them, it probably won’t be the last. But since I can’t know who will read what I post or who needs to know this info, I’ll keep trying to figure out new ways to present old information.
So. Apostrophes. A tiny mark that shows up like a long-lost relative: Sometimes we’re happy to see it, but other times we’re not. And sometimes we wonder where it is, because there’s a situation crying out for it.
So, here are the basic rules we all need to know, at least in the American grammar system:
1. Apostrophes must be in contractions of words. If we remove one or more letters, we can’t just leave the remaining parts of the original word hanging out without them. We’ll either have a completely different word, or the letters that are left won’t make complete sense.
I’ll = I will (Ill, without the apostrophe, is still a word, but not the contraction.)
He’ll = He will (Hell, again, is a word, but not the contraction.)
Can’t = cannot (Cant is also a real word.)
Doesn’t = does not
Wouldn’t = would not
Are you with me so far?
2. The same idea applies to shortening a year. We remove the first two numbers of the four in the original form, so that’s where the apostrophe has to go.
1960 = ’60
In the 1960s = In the ’60s
1980s music = ’80s music
The words “the class of 60” literally means there were 60 kids in the class. It is completely different from “the class of ’60,” which is short for 1960 (or 1860 or whatever year you’re writing about that ends in 60).
Does that make sense?
Basic rule: To form a contraction, place the apostrophe where the original letter(s) or figure(s) were. In that exact spot. Nowhere else.
3. We add an apostrophe to create the possessive form of nouns.
Jim’s house = his house.
Susan’s hair = her hair.
The house’s windows = its windows (the windows of the house)
The houses’ windows = their windows (the windows of the houses)
4. We do NOT add an apostrophe to create the possessive form of pronouns.
The book’s cover = its cover. (it’s = “it is” or “it has”)
Those books are theirs = their books.
5. We do NOT use an apostrophe to create a plural noun.
NO: The cat’s were all over the place.
YES: The cats and dogs and rabbits were everywhere!
NO: The Smith’s live here.
YES: The Smiths live here.
BUT: That’s the Smiths’ house (the house of the people named Smith, the Smiths)
Does this post help? What questions do you still have?