Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grammatically Yours – Apostrophes: Singular Nouns and Indefinite Pronouns (1/3)

The apostrophe is a very small mark of punctuation that causes a lot of very big grammar problems. Unlike the semicolon (which I covered in an earlier series), people don’t seem to avoid using the apostrophe. In fact, most people embrace it. But they frequently embrace it…incorrectly. In my experience, apostrophes are probably one of the most overused punctuation marks (with perhaps the exception of the comma).

This series will systematically explore the major rules for using an apostrophe. Hopefully, these rules will make it a little more clear what situations require the use of the apostrophe, and which ones do not.

Let’s start with a couple of the easiest and most straightforward rules.

Singular nouns

For most singular nouns, add an apostrophe and –s to form the possessive. This includes most words that end in –s.


woman’s books
cat’s tail
Andrew’s car
Lucas’s pocket knife

>>Exception: In the following situations, the possessive form may be achieved by adding only the apostrophe:

1) Ancient proper names ending in –es.
2) The name Jesus.
3) Expressions such as for conscience’ sake.


Jesus’ life
for goodness’ sake
Moses’ leadership
Socrates’ teaching

Indefinite Pronouns

Add an apostrophe and –s to form the possessive of indefinite pronouns.

What is an indefinite pronoun, you ask? The following chart contains just a few of them:

no one


somebody’s luggage
anyone’s decision
no one’s fault

>>Note: Do not add an apostrophe to possessive pronouns (his, hers, its, ours, theirs, yours) or to the pronoun whose.


This dress is hers. (correct)
This dress is her’s. (incorrect)
Watch out for its claws. (correct)
Watch out for it’s claws. (incorrect)

Okay, that’s it for the first part. Check back on Monday for a discussion of plural nouns and other fun stuff!



7/18 - Apostrophes: Singular Nouns and Indefinite Pronouns <you are here>

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