About Apostrophes webpage

Click here to go to the Apostrophes webpage.

The apostrophe, or single quotation mark, often causes children (and adults) a lot of problems. My Apostrophes webpage gives you some practice in identifying where apostrophes should, and should not, go. It is quite a complicated subject, so this page gives some of the theory behind using apostrophes, and some hints on how to use the webpage.

To start with, here is some grammar.
A noun is a thing or a person or an object or an idea, or more than one, e.g. house, computer, Joanna, Bill, women, world, faith, hope, charity.
A verb is action or 'doing something', e.g. walk, think, stood, exist. Verbs may have several words, e.g. is doing, has learnt, will have stood.
A pronoun 'stands in for' a noun, e.g. it, she, I, you, myself, him.

Apostrophes usually get used before an s at the end of the word. There are other places where they can be used, but I only cover the apostrophe s in my Apostrophes webpage. This is because some children work out that an s sometimes needs an apostrophe, and so always put one in, even when it's not necessary. So I thought that a webpage giving them practice in this particular case might be useful. The webpage has a story on it with lots of words ending with s. There are a number of games and activities based on the story. The action for each is the same - click on any s at the end of the word which that activity requires. Clicking anywhere else will do nothing! If you click on the wrong s, you will be told so. I describe the activities in detail below, but first I give the six categories where you will get an s at the end of a word, and where you do, and do not need an apostrophe.
  1. The most usual place in English where you get an s at the end of words is a plural noun, e.g. houses, boys, shoes. You do not use an apostrophe here.
  2. However, there is another way you can end a noun with s. This is a possessive noun, where you are describing something belonging to something or someone else, e.g. John's head (the head of John), the house's front door, the girl's socks. Here, you do use an apostrophe.
  3. To complicate matters, possessive pronouns do not tend to have an apostrophe. So you say "the house's front door" but "its front door". Note that 'its' does not have an apostrophe. Neither does 'his', 'hers', etc.
  4. Another frequent place for s at the end of words is in verbs. The present tense in the third person singular puts an s at the end, e.g. he walks, Susan sings, the dog barks. However, the dogs bark, and they walk. Also Susan will sing, I write, Fred has finished. All these are either not present tense, or not third person, or not singular. 'Is' and 'has' end in s, of course. Any English speaker does this automatically (although it's quite interesting to think about it!) As far as apostrophes go, though, the important thing is that you do not use an apostrophe here.
  5. The other main use of apostrophes is for contractions. In colloquial or spoken English, words are often run together as one word, with letters left out, e.g. let's (let us), don't (do not), shan't (shall not), he's (he is). Some people do not think of this as correct written English, but if you have speech, then you must report it accurately, and in English, this means using the contractions. These do use apostrophes. The apostrophe is put is where the missing letter is, or if there is more than one missing letter, such as "shan't", then at the last missing letter. You can see that apostrophes in contractions are used before different letters, not just s, but in my webpage I am careful only to use contractions with an apostrophe before the s.
  6. The last place where s is used at the end of words is where the word just happens to be spelt that way, e.g. yes, grass. Obviously you never say ye's or gras's!
There are several places where it is easy to get confused. For example, if you write "the cat's whiskers", that does have an apostrophe, as it's a possessive noun (the whiskers belong to the cat). However, you would write "its whiskers" and that does not have an apostrophe as it is a possessive pronoun, not noun. But if you write "It's hot" then it does have an apostrophe, because it is a contraction for "It is hot." So you may write "its" or "it's" depending on what it means. What is worse, while most possessive pronouns do not have an apostrophe, the rather odd pronoun "one" does - you say "one's". Also, you write "The chairs are hard." (plural noun) but "The chair's hard" (contraction - meaning the chair (singular) is hard) and "The chair's back is broken." (possessive singular noun). I hope that you are beginning to realise that this is an extremely complicated subject, and really you need quite a grasp of grammar before you can get it right.

My webpage does not cover possessive plural nouns or possessives of names ending in s, which are whole new cans of worms! Let us concentrate on getting the basics right, first.

It has also been pointed out to me that the webpage says that 'yourselves' and 'themselves' are plural nouns. They are, of course, pronouns. But I didn't want to have too many categories. Plural nouns do not have apostrophies, neither do plural pronouns, so I lumped them together. Sorry!

The webpage is first set up with the first activity. Here when you click on any s at the end of words, it will produce a message box saying what it is, possessive noun, contraction and so on. This is rather boring, but means that you can try to figure out what the difference between the categories is.

The second activity is more fun. When you select it, it removes every apostrophe in the story. You must click on the relevant s to bring each one back. It will then be in red, so you can see what you've done. You will be informed of any mistakes as you make them, and at the end you will be told how many mistakes you made. During the game, you will be told how many apostrophes there are left unfound.

The third game is similar, except here apostrophes get put in all the wrong places! Again, you must click on them to remove them.

Games 4-9 take just one category. The story is left unchanged, but you must find all occurrences of, say, plurals. You must click on the s at the end rather than the rest of the word. It goes red on clicking so you can see what you've found already, and also look at where they all come in the story. I hope this will help people to understand what a particular category means. Warning - there are a lot of verbs ending in s!

Games 10-15 are the same as games 4-9, except they change their endings so they are wrong, and you must click on them to correct them. So, for example, plurals gets apostrophes put in where they shouldn't, and contractions get them taken out where they should be.

Information 16-23 are not games 4-9, and you don't click on anything. They high-light the s in the asked-for category. This might be helpful for a teacher to describe a particular group of words. It might also help people to understand what I mean by words like 'contraction'!

I realise that some teachers may feel strongly that children should not look at incorrect English, even to correct it. This is why I have arranged activities which do not change the story into incorrect punctuation (activity 1, games 4-9, information 16-23). However, I feel that the activities where the children can correct the webpage are more fun. But you can use the webpage as you wish and ignore the bits where you disapprove.

I have tried to make sure that the webpage is grammatically correct (although I have noticed that a few contractions have crept into the main part of the story - sorry! I write in rather a colloquial style.) If you find any errors, please do tell me about them and I will correct them (or defend myself if I disagree!)

Useful books on punctuation

In Association with Amazon.co.uk In Association with Amazon.com
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss - buy UK or USA
  • The New Fowler's Modern English Usage by R. W. Burchfield (Editor), Henry Watson Fowler - buy UK or USA

  • Click here to go to the Apostrophes webpage.