Grammar is hard. I get that. Nobody’s perfect, and every great writer you’ve ever admired has struggled at it. Apostrophes especially seem to trip people up, so I’ve compiled some tips to help you when you’re editing—and please, for the love of God, edit.
One kind of apostrophe is the possessive apostrophe. It is used when something is a possession.
You know what a noun is, right? Of course you do, it’s a person, place, or thing: David, Wal-Mart, or a flower. These words all get an apostrophe when they own something.
A flower’s petals.
The second item belongs to the first, so these are all correct.
A flowers petals.
These are incorrect.
Now, nouns do not get an apostrophe when there is more than one of them.
How many Davids do you know?
I hate all Wal-Marts.
My partner gave me flowers.
All of these are plural, referring to multiple things, so these examples are correct.
So let’s move on to pronouns. Those are words that take the place of a noun: he, she, him, her, his, hers, they, them, theirs, it, that, what, where, who, whose. Not an inexhaustible list, but it’s a good starting point.
Pronouns do not get possessive apostrophes because they already have a possessive form.
These are all correct.
Now here’s the tricky part, because there’s another kind of apostrophe, and I’ve been using it throughout this whole post. This kind is used when you make a contraction. A contraction is when you smash two words together: don’t, can’t, won’t, shouldn’t.
Nouns can have this apostrophe because you can make a contraction with a noun.
David’s not here.
The flower’s wilted.
These are correct, and you can tell because it’s possible to split the word into two. David is, Wal-Mart is, the flower is.
In the case of contractions, pronouns can have this kind of apostrophe because pronouns can make up a contraction.
He’s not here.
These are all correct, because you can successfully split the contraction into two words: He is, they are, it is.
Nouns do get possessive apostrophes.
Plurals do not get apostrophes.
Pronouns do not get possessive apostrophes.
Nouns can form contractions.
Pronouns can form contractions.
In conclusion, if you’re wondering if you need an apostrophe, you can usually just ask yourself two questions: Does something own another thing? and Are you pushing two words together?
Photo credit: funny junk