Apostrophes

Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
Learn More About Magoosh ACT
This lesson is all about apostrophes. Now there is so much punctuation on the ACT English test, so we want to make sure that we are very prepared for every category of punctuation. And one important category of punctuation to be prepared for is the apostrophe. So, let's take a look at the two major uses of apostrophes. So the first major use of an apostrophe is to do a contraction, so a contraction is an abbreviation of a couple different words.

So don't, won't, shouldn't, for example. And the second major use of an apostrophe is to show possession. So, the dog's collar, Mary's book, et cetera. Let's go ahead and take a look at each of these in a little more detail. So, first up, let's talk about contractions. Here is a sentence with a bunch of contractions.

I don't think it's wise to tell Mary she shouldn't go to the dance. Not sure what Mary's gonna do if she finds out, but we probably shouldn't tell her she can't go. So, don't is a contraction for do not, it's is a contraction for it is, and shouldn't is a contraction for should not. Okay.

So, let's talk about what to watch out for on the test, because that was pretty simple. Here's one thing to watch out for. Watch out for these contractions, would've, could've, and should've. And the reason is, or any contraction with have in it, and the reason is because you'll often see wrong answer choices that are would of, could of, and should of, of.

These are always wrong, it's never should of, of, but the reason that they sound right, and the reason that people make this mistake quite a bit is because they sound like the contractions that they're paired with. Would have, could have, should have, when you're speaking, sounds like would of, could of, and should of, sounds almost identical, so watch out for that incorrect answer.

Also, this is probably the most important thing for you to be watching out for. And that is its apostrophe versus, or it apostrophe s versus its, no apostrophe. So it apostrophe s, that is our contraction standing for it is. Its, no apostrophe, is a possessive pronoun. So for example, the dog ate its blanket. Probably not very good for the dog but, nevertheless, the blanket belongs to it, so it thought it could eat it.

Its, no apostrophe, shows possession. Now, the way to check this and check whether or not it should be it apostrophe s or not, is to go ahead and read in it is into a sentence, if you see this underlined. So let's say for example we saw its underlined as in the sentence, the dog ate its blanket, and the question asks should it be it apostrophe s, or its no apostrophe?

So go ahead and read it is into that sentence. The dog ate it is blanket. No, that is definitely not correct. Here's something else to watch out for, and that is who's versus whose, again, because they sound almost identical when you are speaking. So who apostrophe s, that is our contraction for who is, and whose, whose, is a possessive pronoun.

So I don't know whose book that is. That would be whose. But if we had something like this, who's going to the game? And we wanted to check whether it should be correct as is, who apostrophe s, or whether it should be whose, go ahead and read in the full, the full phrase, who is going to the game.

Well, that's correct, so it's definitely correct as is, who apostrophe s. All right, so let's talk about the second major use of apostrophes, and that is to show possession. And what to watch out for here is the distinction between singular and plural nouns, and how you use apostrophes to show possession. So when you have a singular noun like John, we add on an apostrophe s.

John's dog barked all night long, or John dog, John's dog barks all night long. Now, when we have a plural noun, a plural possessive noun ending in s, which is most of them, as in this example, the girls' locker room smelled much better than the boys' locker room. We put the apostrophe after the s. So girls is plural, we want to put that apostrophe afterwards.

Boys is plural, put that apostrophe after. Now, some plural nouns, though, don't end in s. So if we have a plural possessive noun not ending in s, as in this example, the women's locker room also smelled much better than the men's locker room, women is already plural as is, it doesn't have an S on it. Women is plural.

So the women's locker room also smelled much better than the men's, that is also plural as is without the s, so then we punctuate it the same way that we would a singular possessive noun and do apostrophe s. Okay, so singular possessive nouns, apostrophe s. Plural nouns ending in s, apostrophe after the s. In a plural possessive noun that does not end in s, apostrophe s, same as the singular possessive noun.

All right. So, let's talk about what you should be watching out for here. Sometimes, the test is going to ask you to make the right decision about whether or not it is a singular or a plural noun. So for example, my uncle was deeply envious of the beautiful gardens that the couple next door had built; the gardens' series of lily ponds was a particular trigger for his jealousy.

Okay, so we have a couple sentences here linked by semicolons, and the second sentence refers to that first sentence, so we need to know, are there multiple gardens or is there just one garden? And if we look in that previous sentence, we see there are multiple gardens. The couple next door had built gardens, plural. So that means we need the plural possessive here.

So that would be this choice with the apostrophe after the s. All right. So let's look at a couple more test examples. The first time I visited our nation's capital, I was overwhelmed by the number of white-columned neoclassical buildings. So, we are checking to see whether it's nation's, apostrophe s, or an apostrophe after the s, or whether it would be no apostrophe at all, that's our no change option, or whether or not there should be multiple capitals.

I think we can get rid of D, the nations does not have multiple capitals, it just has one capital of the nation. So, is it a possessive we are looking for, or are we looking for a plural here? Now, we're not looking for a plural, we're looking for the capital that belongs to the nation. So we can eliminate no change.

And nation is just one nation, it's not our, we don't have multiple nations that we're belonging to here, so it should be b, nation's capital. We have a singular possessive noun. Now let's look at another test example. It's often considered to be one of the hallmarks of Warhol, whose clever use of pop culture raises mundane objects to high art.

Okay, we have two words we're looking at here, and we need to make sure that we are choosing the right one for each. So let's go through this. It's often considered to be one of the hallmarks of Warhol. Okay, so, remember we're gonna read an it is into the sentence to determine if it should be the possessive, it apostrophe s.

It is often considered to be one of the hallmarks of Warhol, that is correct, so we can get rid of A, and we can get rid of D. It's gotta be B or C. Now let's try to the second part of it, reading in who is. It's often considered to be one of the hallmarks of Warhol, who is clever use of pop culture.

Mm, no. That is wrong. Whose, we need the possessive. Warhol owns this clever use of pop culture, so that would be C. All right, recap again. Two major uses of apostrophe, we have contractions, and want to watch out for words or phrases that sound like contractions that are not contractions, like whose, its, and should have, would have, could have.

Possession, remember with singular, the apostrophe goes before the s. With a plural noun ending in s, the apostrophe goes after the s, and if a plural noun is not ending in s, the apostrophe goes before the s. And as a reminder, make sure to check whether the noun in context should be singular or plural, because sometimes the test is gonna ask you to make that decision, like we had on our gardens and lily pond example.

All right, so good luck. That's what you need to know about apostrophes.

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