GRAMMAR: What do apostrophes (‘) do?

Apostrophes have two main jobs in English:

  • They help nouns show possession or ownership, for example John’s car or my sister’s home. Apostrophes have been doing this job for more than 300 years and they do it very nicely and don’t usually cause anybody any trouble.
  • They indicate that there is a letter or letters  missing in the word, that it is a contraction. Apostrophes have been doing this job for a lot less time; things sometimes get a little tricky and people start making mistakes, especially in writing English.

YOUR and YOU’RE: The first of these is the one that shows possession –YOUR car, YOUR brother.  The second is the contraction of YOU ARE  – missing letter A.  jealous of your brother, aren’t you?

THEIR AND THEY’RE: Again, THEIR is possessive:  THEIR house is in Coronado. The second – letter A missing again! – is THEY ARE.  They’re happy in their house in Coronado.

ITS AND IT’S: This is a really nasty one! Considering phrases like “my sister’s house,” you would expect IT’S to show possession, but – ha ha! -it doesn’t!  It always means IT IS. For example: I bought a new car and it’s parked across the street. The one that shows possession is always ITS. I love my new car but I need to have its brakes checked.


WHO’S = WHO IS: I don’t know who’s hanging out in Coronado today.

WHOSE is a possessive – I don’t know  whose car that is across the street.

HAS AND IS = ‘S too! John’s in class right now.  The Coronado Ferry’s taking off! Both of these = IS.  She’s gone to the Brigantine SeafoodRestaurant.  He’s already spoken to me.  Both of these indicate HAS.  You can tell the difference very easily.  If the apostrophe indicates HAS, a past participle will follow (i.e. gone, spoken etc.)

Fill in the blanks:
Answers at end of lesson!

  1. I know __________house is the nicest on the block because __________always fixing it up!  (YOU’RE/YOUR)
  2. _________always funny to watch a dog chase ___________tail. (IT’S/ITS)
  3. _________ the man ___________car is parked in front of the Hotel Del? (WHOSE/WHO’S)
  4. He’s taken a taxi every day this week means ____________(HE IS/HE HAS)
  5. The limo’s waiting means _______________(THE LIMO IS/THE LIMO HAS)
  6. _____________ angry because __________fish tacos were taking too long. (THEIR/THEY’RE)