Apostrophes in essays

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1. Apostrophes in essays (‘) have two functions. They indicate both the possessive case and contractions. This might seem simple, but apostrophes cause a lot of problems.

The Possessive Case

2. We can say either ‘the whiskers of the cat’, or ‘the cat’s whiskers’. This is the possessive case, when something belongs to somebody or something else.

3. When the possessor is single we indicate possession by using an apostrophe followed by the letter ‘s’:

The man’s coat      my sister’s hat.

4. When the possessors are plural, the apostrophe is placed after the final ‘s’:

The girls’ bicycles      my cousins’ parents.

5. When names end with the letter ‘s’, either use is acceptable:

James’ wife    or    James’s wife.

(It is often said that the choice between the two should be made on how the word is pronounced.)

6. The apostrophe is never used with possessive pronouns:

his, hers, its ours, yours, theirs

But it is used with ‘one’: One must do one’s best.

7. Many shops and business concerns these days omit the apostrophe from their titles:

Barclays Bank      Coopers Wines

8. Note that the apostrophe is not required where a word has been formed by omitting its first part:

bus – NOT – ‘bus

phone – NOT – ‘phone

9. No apostrophe is required in the plural form of numbers and dates:

in the 1920s      the roaring twenties

10. The possessive of classical names ending in es is often formed by the apostrophe alone:

Demosthenes’ speeches
Sophocles’ plays
Xerxes’ campaigns

11. French names ending in an unpronounced s or x follow the normal rule, taking an apostrophe and an s:

Rabelais’s comedy      Malraux’s novels


12. In formal prose we would write ‘She has told him’, but when speaking we would say ‘She’s told him’. The apostrophe is used to indicate the missing letters.

I am (I’m)      He is (he’s)      You are (You’re)

13. Note the difference between it’s (it is) and its (belonging to it).

14. There is no such thing as its’.

15. It’s may also be a contraction of it has

"It’s been a pleasure meeting you"

16. You should avoid the use of contractions in essays and formal writing.

© Roy Johnson 2003

Essay writing links

Apostrophes in essays Writing Essays

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apostrophes in essays Writing Essays 3.0

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