Fiona’s Grammar Clinic – Apostrophes

The Dreaded Apostrophe. I am on a one woman campaign to wipe out the misuse of the poor apostrophe. So beware all you ‘grocer’s’ with your ‘pea’s’ and ‘carrot’s’! Here are some simple rules.

What does an apostrophe do?
It replaces a missing letter or letters or indicates possession. Here are a couple of examples.

Missing letter(s): ‘He has gone’ becomes ‘He’s gone‘. The apostrophe here replaces the letters ‘h’ and ‘a’ and shows us that the form has been shortened.

Possession: In the phrase ‘John‘s book’, the ‘apostrophe s’ shows that we are talking about a book belonging to John.

What about ‘its’, or is it ‘it’s’?
Ah ha! One of my favourites! The answer is that it depends. For a missing letter or letters then we use the apostrophe. For example, ‘it is’ becomes ‘it’s‘ in the short form. (It’s a nice day.)
However for possession, which as we have seen usually needs an apostrophe, ‘its’ is an EXCEPTION. So we say ‘The cat ate all the food in its dish.’

What about plurals?
If we are talking about a number of objects – like our grocer’s carrots – then there is no apostrophe.
If we are talking about a plural possessing something, then the apostrophe is necessary. For example:
The dogs’ dishes. (The dishes belonging to the dogs.)

Ah! But you put the apostrophe at the end there, not after the ‘g’ in dog! Why?
Don’t panic! If you are not sure then just do a simple check. Look at everything to the left of the apostrophe and see if it makes sense.
The dog‘s dish. Looking at everything to the left of the apostrophe we have: ‘The dish of the dog‘.
The dogs’ dish. Looking at everything to the left of the apostrophe we have: ‘The dish of the dogs‘.

E voilà! I hope that has cleared up any confusion you may have had with the apostrophe. If not, please ask!