Punctuation Overview

The Apostrophe: It’s or its? and other stuff… 

The word it’s only has an apostrophe when it is a contraction of it is or it has.

It’s a lovely day.
The film was poor, I’m glad it’s finished.
Now I can ride a bike, it’s easy!

Apostrophes are used to show possession, but there are other ways to show possession using possessive pronouns or determiners:

Possessive pronouns: mine, yours, his, hers, its, our, theirs.
Determiners: my, your, his, her, its, our, their. 

These words do give an indication of belonging or possession, and some of them end in -s, but they never have an apostrophe.

So, if you are not sure whether to write its or it’s, simply substitute the words ”it is“. As a rule of thumb, if the sentence still makes sense then you can still use the apostrophe, otherwise leave it out.

Generally apostrophes are never used to form plurals. However, it is acceptable to use an apostrophe for the sake of clarity when forming the plural of a single letter or a single number:

Find all the number 7’s on this page.
Mind your p’s and q’s.
Put a circle round all the t’s in tittle-tattle.

The Apostrophe: Possession…

An apostrophe is used to show that a person or object belongs or relates to someone or something.

Instead of saying “the mother of Sally” or “the rays of the Sun”  we simply say Sally’s mother or the Sun’s rays.

With singular nouns and most personal names add an apostrophe plus -s

The party was at Pete’s  house.
The dog’s bowl was empty.
Mum’s  car broke down on the way home from town.
Last Friday’s  concert was excellent.

With personal names that end in -s, if you would naturally pronounce an extra -s when you say the name out loud, then add an apostrophe plus an -s :

The nurse worked at St. James’s hospital in Leeds.
Charles’s brother is a professional footballer.

With personal names that end in s but with which you would not pronounce the extra -s, just add an apostrophe after the final -s :

A Christmas Carol was the shortest of Dickens’ novels.
Wesley Snipes’ best film was probably Demolition Man.

With plural nouns ending in -s, add an apostrophe after the final -s :

Edward borrowed his parents’ car.
Just inside the door was the ladies’ cloakroom.
Footballers’ wives sit together to watch the game.

With plural nouns that do not end in -s, add an apostrophe plus an -s:

The men’s cloakroom was at the end of the corridor.
The children’s centre is closed on Saturdays.
Top Shop sells women’s clothing.

Note: possessive pronouns/determiners do not need an apostrophe to denote possession ( his, hers, ours, yours, theirs)

The Apostrophe : Omission…

Apostrophes are used to show that some letters have been missed out. This usually happens when two words are run together to make a single word.

This is called a contraction and happens quite a lot – particularly in spoken English. This being the case, students will find that they use this type of apostrophe most often in their writing when they are using direct speech.

There is a case for suggesting that, unless they are using direct speech, contractions should be avoided.

Here are some examples of apostrophes letters have been left out:

We’ll – short for we will.
We’ll get a dog when we move into our new house.
I’m – short for I am.
I’m happy that l can have tomorrow off work.
I’d – short for I would.
I’d like fish and chips for tea, please.
Can’t – short for can not.
Mum can’t afford a new car just yet.
Didn’t – short for did not.
Jenny didn’t go to the party on Saturday.

There are many other examples of contractions and the way in which apostrophes are used to indicate where letters have been omitted.

Click here to see a list of words that use an apostrophe to indicate that there is a letter or letters missing.

An apostrophe can also show that numbers have been omitted:

Can you remember the summer of ’69?
I was in Berlin when the wall fell in ’89.

The Apostrophe : A rant…

The main issue that I have with teaching children about using apostrophes is that somebody had always got there before me and often created major confusion.

Bravo to the person that taught six year olds that could barely write their own names about apostrophes of omission. You taught them to recognise when the letters ‘-nt’ come together at the end of a word and showed them how to stick in an apostrophe to be all grown up.

Then you drilled them for a while, giving them worksheets which kept them quiet and  pleased their mummies, but never thought to introduce them to the fact that not all words that end in ‘-nt’ get an apostrophe.

The same happened with words ending ‘-ll’  or ‘-ve’.

Clearly, the little dears needed to be seen to make progress so, before they left the infants, the apostrophe of possession was introduced – but only the simple ‘s.

Again lots of worksheets, or maybe even ‘point and click’ activities on trendy apps, were bandied about in which every final ‘-s’ needed an apostrophe dropping in before it.

So, by the time I had them, aged 11, apostrophes were growing like mushrooms all over their writing…

I have genuinely seen the following.

I like to pain’t.
Wi’ll you come to my party?
Can I ha’ve a cup of coffee, please?
As he en’tered the room he saw a ghostly shape.

All of these are the result of what I call “Apostrophes week”: maybe the infant department curriculum and planning documents clearly stated that these children must all be taught apostrophes no matter what their reading level or cognitive capabilities, or maybe teacher just felt like apostrophes were a good idea, who knows?

Of course, the children are keen to please, learn the trick and are rewarded with praise – much the same way  as I taught my labrador to sit, lie down, speak and close doors.

But the dog doesn’t really understand the actual words, she just knows that her actions please me and she gets a pat on the head and maybe a treat.

Although they fell out of fashion, worksheets are a useful tool and I do reckon that learning takes place more often with pen in hand than it does by clicking a screen. (If you call worksheets Skills Development, Assessment  and Consolidation Activities they become back in vogue…)

My only plea would be that:

Firstly, colleagues might not be so eager to teach the apostrophe at the lower end of the primary schools – may be get full stops and capital letters nailed first?

Secondly, introduce a thought process so that pupils have to think whether an apostrophe is actually needed; maybe chuck in a few questions in which an apostrophe is NOT actually needed and thus we might identify whether they have been taught a transferrable skill or simply conditioned to ‘sit on command’ in order to tick a box …

Rant over.

The Colon

The colon has three main uses as a punctuation mark.

A colon is used to introduce a list.

Mary had four dogs: a labrador, a German shepherd, a boxer and an old mongrel called Jess.
There are four meals available to chose from at the event: pizza, curry, spaghetti bolognese and omelette.

A colon is not needed if the list is incorporated in the sentence.

The restaurant specialises in pizza, pasta and rice dishes.

A colon is used to separate two independent clauses when the second clause is an explanation or example of the first.

John could not go out on Friday night: he had no money.
At the start of the match there were three possible outcomes: we could win and be promoted or we could either lose or draw, in which case we would not.

A colon can be used to emphasise a word or phrase at the end of a sentence in a way which is more or less in line with the way the colon separates clauses in that the words after the colon provide an explanation of what has gone before.

Standing on the cliff edge there was only one thing that Butch and Sundance could do: jump.
As the aircraft was thrown about in the turbulence, there was only one place mum wanted to be: back on the ground.

Exclamation Marks 

An exclamation mark is placed at the end of a sentence that expresses:

An exclamation:

Ouch! You trod on my toe.
Oi! Get out of my garden.

In direct speech to indicate that the speaker is shouting:

“Look out!” shouted dad as he dropped the hammer.
”Get down from there!” yelled the teacher when he saw the boys climbing the tree.

When the writer finds something amusing:

When the clown appeared at the party all the children burst out crying!

There has, lately, been a trend in informal wnting to place multiple exclamation marks in writing, especially in social media.

Presumably this is to emphasise how strongly the writer feels about a particular topic. (…!!!). However, in formal writing this is generally regarded as bad form, as is combining a question mark with a question mark (…!?)

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