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by Wren
Rated: E · Article · Writing · #1119118
Grammar Lesson: Let's use those tricky apostrophes right.

Not a day goes by without these common grammar mistakes showing up somewhere. With all those bad examples, it’s difficult to learn the right way. If you want your writing to look like you know what you’re doing, getting your punctuation correct is imperative.

Let’s begin with singles and plurals.

One boy, two boys
One child, two children
One house, two houses

Easy. Now, say you are making a list of people to invite to a party. You want to invite Al Smith and his wife Mary.

One Smith, two Smiths

So you put “the Smiths” on your list. That’s a plain old ordinary plural word. You also want to invite Jim and Jan Nelson, Ben and Sue Bliss and Jack and Bonnie Jones. How do you add these couples to your list?

         The Smiths
         The Nelsons
         The Blisses
         The Joneses

It seems a little funny to add an ‘es’ to a name, but that’s what makes it plural.


Next let’s talk about apostrophes. They have two purposes in life. The first is to show that there’s a letter left out, making a contraction of two words.
The underlined words in this paragraph are contractions. I have squeezed together (contracted) the words “let” and “us” to make “let’s.” I contracted the words “there” and “is” to make “there’s.” Contractions are very important in writing dialog because that is the way we usually speak.


This is the other way we use the apostrophe, and it’s the way that is most often misunderstood.

Jim’s new car is sporty. Easy. Jim possesses this sporty new car. What else can we say about the car?

The car’s engine is fast. The car possesses the engine. “Jim” and “car” are both singular words. What if the singular word ends with an ‘s’?

Carol was buying a set of glasses. She noticed that one glass’s rim was uneven.

What if the singular word is a name ending in ‘s’? Do we say “Jesus’ friends” or “Jesus’s friends?” Usually we say it the first way, but either is correct. It’s a possessive.

This gets harder now. Let’s go on to plurals. Jim and Jan Nelson have a family car, and it’s a hybrid. So we’d say, The Nelsons have a new hybrid. The Nelsons’ new hybrid gets very good gas mileage. Nelsons’ is plural possessive.

The Joneses bought an SUV. The Joneses’ SUV holds eight people. The SUV’s gas mileage isn’t very good.


1. Jim and Jan Nelson want to order some return address labels. They want an informal style with their family name at the top, then the members of their family on the next line. They have two children, Bob and Tina. How might they write this correctly?

2. Bob raises tomatoes. His wife Tina raises her own variety. He wants to make a sign to sell them, differentiating between the two. He doesn’t know the name of the variety, but he thinks more people will buy his kind than hers. What does he put on his sign?

3. The Joneses are having a picnic, and they want to make a sign to put on their tables in the park. What should it say?
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