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English - Apostrophes (1)

The way apostrophes have been taught over the years is a matter of despair to me. In my own teaching I've managed to simplify the lessons to remove confusion. If you're a bit uncertain about how to use apostrophes, I hope these examples will clarify things for you. Please don't be afraid of apostrophe usage - they are misused by teachers and wrong rules are taught all over the place - you are in good company if you are not quite certain but let's help you to help your child understand the way they work.

Put the apostrophe in the correct place(s) in this sentence:
I shouldnt have done it, its going to make things worse.

The apostrophe has two purposes. It can be used for omission (letters have been missed out, usually in informal writing or speech) and possession (when someone or something 'owns' or 'has' something else). In the question above we can see two examples of the apostrophe for omission. The word 'shouldnt' is a combination of 'should' and 'not' while the word 'its' is a shortened version of 'it is'. The apostrophe always goes in the new word at the point where the letter or letters have been taken out. I show this visually by using the apostrophe as an 'arrow', showing the direction of the letter as it is squeezed out and flies into the air.

The word 'things' is something which may attract your child's attention when told there is a need to put an apostrophe in. There is no reason to use an apostrophe for it though. It's a word which ends in 's' and, of course, that's no reason to put an apostrophe in for that reason!

The correct sentence should therefore be:
I shouldn't have done it, it's going to make things worse.

The following sentence requires the use of apostrophes. Put the apostrophe(s) in where they are required:
Amirs foot was hurting as his shoes were too tight.

The first thing we should encourage your child to do is to apply the rule of common sense. Assuming that he or she reads a lot, they should be able to spot where the apostrophe ought to go. However, recognising what looks right is different from understanding exactly why and where they must go.

Hopefully, your child can see the use of a possessive apostrophe. Amir has a foot and therefore he is the 'owner' in this sentence. The apostrophe goes after 'Amir' and before the 's'. The easy way to think of this is 'who or what OWNS something in this sentence?' The answer is 'Amir' so the apostrophe goes after 'Amir'.

The second place where children may try to put an apostrophe is in the word 'shoes'. It ends in 's' so could there be an apostrophe there? Apply the rules - does it 'own' anything? As it doesn't appear to do so, there is no need for an apostrophe. The correct answer is therefore:
Amir's foot was hurting as his shoes were too tight.

The basics of apostrophes are simple - use them to show where a letter is missed out or after the owner of something in a sentence. However, there are some awkward examples where the rules are followed but people get a bit confused. Try this one, for instance. Insert any appropriate apostrophes in the following sentence:
The dogs tails wagged as they saw the juicy sausages in the window.

Before tackling this one, there is a very important point to make. Do not get hung up on the use of plurals when teaching your child about apostrophes. They are irrelevant. Find the 'owner(s)' and put in apostrophe - s, BUT... if the extra 's' is not sounded, leave it off as it looks clumsy.

The question talks about dogs. They have tails, and one dog would only have one tail. The 'owner' in this case is 'dogs'; it happens that they are in the plural and in the past you may have been taught to take note of this but, in the pared down world of common sense, ignore this! You've found the 'owner' so you put the apostrophe - s combination on. Does it now sound right? Does that extra 's' get sounded? If we did so in this case, the word would appear as 'dogs's' and would have to be pronounced 'dogses'. We don't pronounce the extra 's' so we leave it off.

The other words ending in 's' must be checked in the sentence. 'Tails' and 'sausages' don't own anything so they don't need an apostrophe.

The correctly punctuated sentence is therefore:
The dogs' tails wagged as they saw the juicy sausages in the window.

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