61 Apostrophes. Use apostrophes to indicate possession.

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1 61 Apostrophes Apostrophes show possession (the dog s bone) and indicate omitted letters in contractions (don t). They are also used in such a wide variety of other ways that they can be confusing. Keep track of the uses that give you trouble, and when in doubt, consult this chapter. Editing tip: The abbreviation ap indicates a problem with the use of apostrophes. Apostrophes and Grammar Checkers Spelling and grammar checkers can help you catch some errors in the use of apostrophes. For example, a spelling checker may sometimes highlight its used incorrectly instead of it s or an error in a possessive (for example, Englands glory) but often gets it backwards. Spelling and grammar checkers also miss many apostrophe errors, so you should double-check all words that end in -s in your work. 61a Use apostrophes to indicate possession. For a noun to be possessive, two elements are usually required: (1) someone or something is the possessor and (2) someone, something, or some attribute or quality is possessed. nmhh For information and exercises on apostrophes, go to Editing > Apostrophes PERSON, THING, ATTRIBUTE, QUALITY, VALUE, OR FEATURE POSSESSOR POSSESSED POSSESSION woman son the woman s son Juanita shovel Juanita s shovel child bright smile a child s bright smile 921

2 61a MECHANICS AND SPELLING Apostrophes Sometimes the thing possessed precedes the possessor. thing possessed possessor The motorcycle is the student s. Sometimes the sentence may not name the thing possessed, but its identity (in this case, house) is clearly understood by the reader. I saw your cousin at Nick s. Note: You can also indicate possession using the preposition of: the bright smile of a child. 1. Deciding whether to use an apostrophe plus -s or use only an apostrophe Making singular nouns possessive To form the possessive of all singular nouns, add an apostrophe plus -s to the ending: baby s. Even singular nouns that end in -s form the possessive by adding - s: bus s. Note: If a singular noun with more than two syllables ends in -s and adding - s would make the word sound awkward, it is acceptable to use only an apostrophe to form the possessive: Socrates, Dickens, Moses, Jesus. Whatever your choice, be consistent. Making plural nouns ending in -s possessive To form the possessive of a plural noun that ends in -s, add only an apostrophe to form the possessive: subjects, babies. Making plural nouns that do not end in -s possessive To form the possessive of a plural noun that does not end in -s add an apostrophe plus -s to form the possessive: men s, cattle s. Making indefinite pronouns possessive To form the possessive of most indefinite pronouns, such as no one, everyone, everything, or something, add an apostrophe plus -s: no one s, anybody s. Note: Adding - s makes some indefinite pronouns sound awkward. In those cases, use of to form the possessive: the wishes of a few, the parents of both. 922

3 MECHANICS AND SPELLING Indicating possession 61a Forming Possessives IF THE WORD IS A(N) ADD EXAMPLE singular noun - s horse s Moore s plural noun ending in -s - horses Moores plural noun not ending in -s - s children s indefinite pronoun - s everybody s 2. Using the apostrophe in tricky situations Multiple possessors To express joint ownership by two or more people, use the possessive form for the last name only; to express individual ownership, use the possessive form for each name. Felicia and Elias s report The city s and the state s finances Compound words To form the possessive of compound words, add an apostrophe plus -s to the last word in the compound. My father-in-law s job The editor-in-chief s responsibilities Proper names To form the possessive of proper names, follow the rules given above, with some exceptions. Some place or organizational names that include a possessive noun lack an apostrophe. In these cases, follow the established style rather than adding an apostrophe. Kings Point Department of Veterans Affairs Note: To form the possessive of buildings, machines, and other inanimate objects, use of if adding - s sounds awkward: the window of the house (not the house s window). 923

4 61b MECHANICS AND SPELLING Apostrophes Exercise 61.1 Using apostrophes to form the possessive Write the possessive form of each word. The first one has been done for you. Word(s) the press nobody newspapers Monday and Tuesday classes (individual ownership) deer women someone Edward trade-off well-worn footpath United States this year and last year combined population (joint ownership) Possessive the press s 61b Use apostrophes to form contractions. A contraction is a shortened word or group of words formed when some letters or sounds are omitted. In a contraction, the apostrophe serves as a substitute for the omitted letters. we ve = we have weren t = were not here s = here is In informal writing, apostrophes can also substitute for omitted numbers in a decade: the 90s. It is usually better to spell out the name of the decade in formal writing, however: the nineties. CHARTING the TERRITORY Contractions in Academic Writing Although the MLA and APA style manuals allow contractions in academic writing, some instructors think that they are too informal. Check with your instructor before using contractions in a paper. 924

5 MECHANICS AND SPELLING Contractions vs. possessive pronouns 61c 61c Distinguish between contractions and possessive pronouns. The following pairs of homonyms (words that sound alike but have different meanings) often cause problems for writers. Note that the apostrophe is used only in the contraction. CONTRACTION it s (it is or it has) It s too hot. you re (you are) You re a lucky guy. who s (who is) Who s there? they re (they are) They re reading poetry. POSSESSIVE PRONOUN its The dog scratched its fleas. your Is that your new car? whose The man whose dog was lost called us. their* They gave their lives. *The adverb there is also confused with their and they re: She was standing there. Exercise 61.2 Distinguishing between contractions and pronouns Underline the correct word choice in each sentence. EXAMPLE Transcendentalists have had a strong influence on American thought; (there/they re/their) important figures in our literary history. 1. In the essay The Over-soul, Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the unity of nature by cataloging (it s/its) divine, yet earthly, expressions, such as waterfalls and well-worn footpaths. 2. Emerson states that you must have faith to believe in something that supersedes or contradicts (your/you re) real-life experiences. 3. (Who s/whose) the author of the poem at the beginning of Emerson s Self-Reliance? 4. Emerson believes that (there/they re/their) are ways to live within a society without having to give in to its pressures. 5. According to Emerson, people should occasionally silence the noise of (there/they re/their) inner-voices and learn to listen to the world s unconscious voice. 6. Emerson also believes that, in the end, (it s/its) the individual and the individual alone who must decide his or her own fate. 925

6 61e MECHANICS AND SPELLING Apostrophes 61d An apostrophe can be used with -s to form plural numbers, letters, abbreviations, and words used as words. An apostrophe plus -s ( s) can be used to show the plural of a number, a letter, or an abbreviation. Underline or italicize single letters but not the apostrophe or the -s. He makes his 2 s look like 5 s. Committee has two m s, two t s, and two e s. Professor Morris has two Ph.D. s. Exceptions: If an abbreviation does not have periods, the apostrophe is not necessary (RPMs). The apostrophe is also not necessary to form the plural of dates (1990s). If a word is used as a word rather than as a symbol of the meaning it conveys, it can be made plural by adding an apostrophe plus -s. The word should be italicized or underlined but not the - s. There are twelve no s in the first paragraph. Note: Style guides vary, and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, for example, no longer recommends using apostrophes to form plurals of this sort, except for plurals of letters treated as letters. MLA STYLE He makes his 2s look like 5s. MLA STYLE Committee has two m s, two t s, and two e s. 61e Watch out for common misuses of the apostrophe. 926 Never use an apostrophe with -s to form a plural noun. teachers The teacher s asked the girls and boys for their attention. ^ (See Chapter 63, pp , for more on forming plural nouns.)

7 MECHANICS AND SPELLING Common misuses of the apostrophe 61e Never use an apostrophe with -s to form the present tense of a verb used with a third-person singular subject (he, she, it, or a singular noun). needs A professional singer need s to practice different vocal ^ techniques. Never use an apostrophe with the possessive form of a pronoun such as hers, ours, or theirs. ours That cat of our s is always sleeping! ^ (See 61c for advice on distinguishing contractions [it s] from possessive pronouns [its].) Exercise 61.3 Chapter review: Apostrophes Edit the following passage by adding and deleting apostrophes and correcting any incorrect word choices. Transcendentalism was a movement of thought in the midto late 1800s that was originated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and several other s who s scholarship helped to shape the democratic ideals of their day and usher America into it s modern age. Emerson, a member of New Englands elite, was particularly interested in spreading Transcendentalist notion s of self-reliance; he is probably best known for his essay Self-Reliance, which is still widely read in todays universities. Most people remember Thoreau, however, not only for what he wrote but also for how he lived: its well known that for a while, at least he chose to live a simple life in a cabin on Walden Pond. Altogether, one could say that Emerson s and Thoreau s main accomplishment was to expand the influence of literature and philosophy over the development of the average Americans identity. With a new national literature forming, people s interest in they re self-development quickly increased as they began to read more and more about what it meant to be American. In fact, one could even say (perhaps half-jokingly) that, today, the success of home makeovers on television and the popularity of self-help books might have a lot to do with Emerson s and Thoreau s ideas about selfsufficiency and living simply idea s that took root in this nation more than a hundred years ago. 927

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