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Possessives & Contractions. Where to put an apostrophe?

When it comes to apostrophe usage, separating the possessive nouns from contractions becomes highly significant. If the author confuses one with the other, he will make mistakes regularly. Fortunately, there are some tips on differentiating these two grammar structures and putting apostrophes in the right places.

Differences between possessives and contractions

Contraction is used to replace the omitted letters with apostrophes. It needs to make the words smaller and the style less formal. Contractions always require apostrophes. Although they are not allowed in academic writing, this grammar structure can be used as a part of a quote. Possessives show ownership. They are always formed with apostrophes and the letter "s". The formula for singular nouns looks like this:

Noun + apostrophe + s

✔️ the mom's bag

The formula for plural nouns that end with "s" sounds:
Noun + apostrophe

✔️ the twins' room

The formula for plural nouns that don't end with "s" sounds:
Noun + s + apostrophe

✔️ the boys' team

The tricky cases

From first sight, it's easy to differentiate possession from contraction. However, some pitfalls embarrass even experienced authors.

Possessive pronouns and contractions

Many authors often confuse possessive pronouns (its, his, our) with contractions (it's, he's). Remember! Possessive pronouns should be written without an apostrophe. They differ from the contractions by answering the question "Whose?"

Possessive pronoun Contraction
Its tail is long and abrasive. (Whose tail?) It's a tail. It's long and abrasive. (What is it?)
Don't touch his injury! (Whose injury?) He's injured. Don't touch him! (Who is injured?)

Contraction with dates

Sometimes contraction is used not only with letters but also with numbers. For example, the '90s (1990s)
Remember that the apostrophe should be put in the beginning, not before "s".

  • The 90's are characterized by rising unemployment.
  • ✔️ The '90s are characterized by rising unemployment.

Possessives and contractions with names

Names could also be quite problematic.
When it comes to possession, it's important to remember some nuances:

⚪ Group ownership. When something belongs to the group of objects the only one apostrophe is needed.
✔️ Where is Tom and Mary's house?

⚪ Double ownership. Use the possessive form of the noun in the constructions like "a son of mine."
✔️ This is a house of Tom's.

When it comes to contraction, remember that some names are traditionally written with apostrophes. It doesn't mean that letters are omitted. Don't try to reformulate the name and add these letters. It is also possible to use the possessive form with such words. Multiple apostrophes are allowed.

  • ✔️ O'Neil is a popular Irish name.
  • ✔️ Is it O'Neil's jacket?

Top-3 life hacks on how to master apostrophe usage

There are some secrets on how to put the apostrophe correctly in possessive forms and contractions.

  • Questions. It's easy to differentiate possessions and contractions by questions. If it is possible to ask the question "Whose?" the possessive form should be used.
  • Lists. Some contractions are rare and could embarrass the authors. It's a good idea to make a list of unique grammar structures and not confuse them with other words and possessions. Also, it's helpful to make another list with rare names, exceptions.
  • Exercises. As more papers are written, as more the author is skilled.

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