Possessives, Contractions, and the ApostropheWriter's Web
(printable version here)

The most ignored punctuation mark, yet one that causes many writers grief and professors headaches, is the simple apostrophe. The mark signals either a contraction or a possessive word (Can't, John's). Here are spots where writers trip up:

Unneeded and missing apostrophes:

Writers' need to bring their papers to consultations at the Writing Center.

"Writers" is simply plural. Omit the apostrophe.

"Is that cat your's?"

No apostrophe is needed for what is already possessive, so "yours" works fine here.

The Joneses cat is at it again.

That should be "Joneses' cat," and this brings the reader to a vexing issue.

Words that end in S

The rules are very simple. For words that are plural, such as "Joneses," just add the mark.

Singular words are different and take 's as in "I ran into the boss's car! What do I do?" or "Is that Thomas's cat?"

Misplaced apostrophes:

The students' car was towed away.

If the students all owned the car, this works. If it belongs to one student, then it would be "student's car."

Contractions and "It": a special case

This situation is irregular. For "it is," use "it's." For the possessive, use "its" without the apostrophe.

By the way, many faculty members consider contractions too informal for academic writing. Thus "cannot" would be safe usage if a professor might mark "can't." Ask the faculty member to be certain of his or her policies in this case.

Some plurals and abbreviations are downright odd

Sometimes writers will include apostrophes for plurals such as DVD's, 1960's, and so on. The grammar texts cannot agree on this. It may be best to omit apostrophes in such cases for the sake of simplicity.

It is acceptable usage to use an apostrophe before a shortened term or date, such as "my '67 GTO raced his '69 'Cuda the other night."

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