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Geoff Ashton

Blogs by Geoff Ashton
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apostrophe error


Teach Your Child How To Use Apostrophes. A parents' guide...

We’ve all seen them…

Apostrophe errors aren't rare about town. There are mistakes on shop signs, the sides of vehicles, at the market – which only proves that even adults find the whole ‘apostrophe issue’ quite confusing. The truth is, it IS confusing. I’ve even heard teachers debating the intricacies of the rules.

And NO – you don’t put an apostrophe wherever you see an ‘s’ !!

To simplify matters, I’ve written about the 2 main uses for apostrophes, which should satisfy most children, standing them in good stead for further detailed tuition.

For those hardier souls who like a bit of ‘nitty-gritty’, continue on to the ‘difficult areas’ section.

So, I will attempt to clear the muddy waters, but be warned, you may need a couple of read-throughs – or should that be read through’s (reads through?)?!

Here we go - teach your child how to use apostrophes - a parents' guide...

There are 2 main uses of apostrophes (and several ‘difficult areas’):

1. To shorten words – the simplest to explain! (Omission)

can not = can’t (apostrophe replaces the letters ‘n’ and ‘o’)

I have = I’ve (apostrophe replaces the letters ‘h’ and ‘a’)

The apostrophe can be used in ‘contractions’ like the above examples where it replaces one or more letters. Take care though as there are exceptions e.g. will not = won’t (NOT willn’t!!)

2. To show belonging (possession)

The boy’s shoes

- in this example the shoes (a plural word) belong to one boy – so the apostrophe indicates this.

The boys’ shoes

- here, the shoes belong to more than one boy, so the plural word ‘boys’ comes first followed by an apostrophe to show possession.

I loved yesterday’s weather.
The car’s wheel just fell off.

The weather ‘belongs’ to yesterday. The wheel ‘belongs’ to the car.

3. The Difficult Areas!

One confusion that arises is when a word already ends in an ‘s’. e.g. Jesus, Thomas. So, if you would naturally add an extra ‘s’ in speech, you do the same to show possession in writing. To show a cup belongs to Jesus or Thomas we would write:

Jesus’s cup
Thomas’s cup

If you wouldn’t naturally add another ‘s’ in speech then don’t add one in the written form:

St.Thomas’ School (although I’ve heard this said both ways!)

Peter Bridges’ coat

Sometimes we want to show that something belongs to more than one thing e.g. The shoes belonging to the women – would become:

The women’s shoes

- so we write the plural word first, then use the apostrophe to show possession.

Another common error is the difference between its and it’s

– but this really is one of the simpler ones to explain. The one with the apostrophe is a contraction for ‘it is’ (or ‘it has’), the other one is a possessive word all by itself e.g. Give the dog its collar back. It’s the collar that belongs to the dog.


This one is so common as to almost have become the correct way to do it! I’m talking:


None of them need an apostrophe, as they show neither omission nor possession – they are merely plurals!


And if that wasn’t hard enough for you…

There are a group of words called ‘possessive pronouns’ that already show possession! Yes, you read that correctly! When using these words we DON’T NEED to use an apostrophe, as they already mean ‘belonging to’. They are:


And finally…

We all like to play the ‘I’m cleverer than you’ game once in a while, but when you start to research English grammar you see how complex it actually is, and that the real experts in the field are the people who take a more humble view of it. Language is for communication, and the rules are driven by its use not by some ‘Official Body’ that sit all day making them up. The ‘rules’ that we speak of are not actual rules, merely accepted forms of doing things. There will become a time when text-speak becomes the accepted form – and why not?


If you doubt these predictions, just look at what the Oxford dictionary says about using apostrophes in plurals – normally a big NO NO ! (As you now know – they’re for possession and omission only!):

“There are one or two cases in which it is acceptable to use an apostrophe to form a plural, purely for the sake of clarity:

-You can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters:

I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.
Find all the p’s in appear.

-You can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers:

Find all the number 7’s.” (Courtesy of

Self-proclaimed apostrophe police (of which I am an occasional member!) take note!

Hopefully, by now you know when to use apostrophes and when not to use apostrophes, so...

Just for fun – see if you can decipher the meanings of these 3 apostrophe examples sentences:

Her colleague’s son’s friends went snowboarding last winter.
Her colleague’s sons’ friends went snowboarding last winter.
Her colleagues’ sons’ friends went snowboarding last winter.

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