Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Top 20 Grammar Errors: The Possessive Apostrophe Error

The Abused Apostrophe

Fighting cat’s and dog’s versus fighting cats and dogs. Which is right; which is wrong? And remember when I said these top 20 grammar errors bleed into each other? Well, today’s grammar error ranks in at number nine: the possessive apostrophe error. And number nine directly relates to number twenty: its versus it’s.

Do you see the issue with its versus it’s? It has to do with the (wait for it) the apostrophe!

And also, by this point, if you’re not into grammar all that much, but you are still reading this series of grammar errors because you enjoy my witty banter, you may be wondering why any of this is all that important in the greater scheme of things.
Well, check this out. It’s funny. And maybe just a little bit sad.

Apostrophe Use

Apostrophes are used to mark omissions and possessions.

I’ve a headache.

The dog’s chew toy is loud.

In the first sentence, the apostrophe replaces the letters ha in the word have. In the second sentence, the apostrophe shows ownership—that is, the chew toy is owned by the dog.


The word ending s (see error grammar #6) also denotes plurality. Notice the bad grammar in the cartoon. All those apostrophes are wrong. The tomatoes don’t own anything; there are just a lot of them. It should read:

·         Tomatoes
·         Potatoes
·         Apostrophes


That being said, I’ll forgive this guy because he’s selling deep fried Oreos.


What confuses people, I think, is the whole its versus it’s dilemma.

Normally, an ’s marks possession, or ownership. The dog’s chew toy, for example. However, replace dog with the pronoun it, and all of a sudden the apostrophe disappears:

Its chew toy.

This is really the only exception I can think of where you specifically do not use the apostrophe to mark possession. We’ll go over this exception in more detail in grammar error number 20. So for now, just remember, when using the word it, it does not get an apostrophe to show ownership.

Everything else does:

·         The dog’s chew toy.
·         The boy’s chew toy.
·         The cat’s chew toy.

More Plurality

All of this is fairly straight forward, but what happens if you have a bunch of dogs and all seventeen thousand million dogs own the same chew toy? Where does the apostrophe go?

The dogs’ chew toy.

You still need that s word ending to mark plurality. You also still need an apostrophe to mark ownership. Move the apostrophe to the end of the word. Simple.


Steve Bargdill is the author of The Wasteland Series available on Amazon. He’s written for several newspapers and is currently a first year English graduate student at the University of Wyoming. You can read his short stories for free on Wattpad.


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