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Possessive pronouns, plurals and apostrophes – OH MY!

By, Jessica Knutzon

The English language is tricky and there are many exceptions to rules. This does not help defend the idea that English is an easy language to learn. Apostrophes are so commonly misused that these mistakes become accepted in writing.

It can be tricky to know when to use an apostrophe. Apostrophes are often mistakenly used to make a word plural. The apostrophe seems to sneak in and change the meaning of a word unbeknownst to the writer.

If you want to make a word plural, adding an apostrophe is not going to make that happen, it will make the word possessive. For example:

  • Dog’s means that you are about to address something that pertains to the dog. The dog’s tail is white.
  • Dogs means you’re talking about more than one dog. There are three brown dogs in the front yard.

If a word is already plural, adding an apostrophe at the end of the word will make it (usually) possessive. For example:

  • The guys’ football game got out of hand. This means that multiple guys were playing football and it got out of hand.
  • Words like children, women, men, which are made plural by changing the word not by adding an s, also become plural possessive when adding an apostrophe and s. The men’s rugby team has a game tomorrow.

Another common mistake is adding an apostrophe to possessive pronouns. Yours, his, hers, ours, theirs, yours, its – these words are possessive and you cannot make them more possessive by adding that pesky apostrophe.

I am going to really spoil you today and add a part about contractions because our favorite friend, the apostrophe, also makes an appearance here. I often come across this mistake that we have all probably made and it involves the word it. When it is possessive, you should use its because it’s means it is. It is a contraction exactly like couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, don’t, won’t, etc.

If you have any burning grammar questions, please leave a comment and we will try to include in the next Grammar Grief column.

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