Monday, 5 December 2011

Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Law: Apostrophes, It’s, and Its

People who speak English as a second language often confuse the use of words that sound similar, and this also commonly occurs in those for whom English is their native language. Sometimes it can be just a matter of having the differences pointed out.  Today I’ll concentrate on apostrophes, and the words its and it’s.

1) Often an apostrophe is used to show possession, but in the case of the pronoun *it* an apostrophe is not used. *Its* is a pronoun used to show possession or ownership and therefore referred to as a *possessive pronoun*.

e.g. My car needs fixing. Its radiator overheated again.

2) *It's* is a contraction of *it is* (or *it has* when *has* is not the primary verb [see below]). The apostrophe takes the place of the letter *i*.

e.g. It’s [it is] cold outside. It’s [it has] been snowing.

When *has* is the primary verb, you cannot use the contraction *it’s* for *it has*.

e.g. *That new movie is boring, even though it has several big name actors* cannot be written *That new movie is boring, even though it’s several big name actors*.

3) An apostrophe doesn't always show possession. None of the possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, its, our, their, whose) are spelled with an apostrophe.

4) *Apostrophe s* is not used to show plural of everyday words.

e.g. You write one cat, two cats, but not two cat’s.

5)*Apostrophe s* can be used to show the plural of:

a) abbreviations
b) numbers
c) letters

The *apostrophe s* is used where it helps avoid confusion and enables the reader to understand what the writer intended.

a) The term *Personal Computer* is often abbreviated to PC. If you were writing about several personal computers, it could be confusing if you wrote *PCS* or *PCs*, therefore the convention is to write *PC’s* where the reader immediately recognizes the abbreviation for personal computer and realizes the writer is using the *apostrophe s* to make the abbreviation plural.

b) I knew you weren’t born in Australia because you cross your 7’s like they do in Europe.

c) Steve got straight A’s on his report card.

Hopefully this has helped clear up the use of apostrophes in certain cases.