Apostrophe Errors

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Worksheet 1, Apostrophe Errors, 9 Exercises
Worksheet 2, Apostrophe Errors, 18 Exercises

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The Problem

Errors in using the apostrophe abound in written English. Some writers use an apostrophe where none is warranted, while others omit an apostrophe where one is required.

its, it's, OR its'

By far the most common errors in the use of the apostrophe involve the letters i-t-s. Some writers believe, wrongly, that the apostrophe always implies possession; it does not. Therefore, we have constructions like the one below.

  1. The cat lost it's collar.
  2. The cat lost its' collar.

In the first sentence, the writer uses an apostrophe incorrectly to denote possession. The correct form to indicate possession using i-t-s is its, always.

Correct: The cat lost its collar.

The form it's means "it is" or "it has," as in "It's a great day for roller skating" or "It's been a long time since Karen came to class." This is called a contraction and should be used sparingly, if at all, in formal writing.

In the second sentence, the writer uses a form that does not exist. The form its' does not exist in standard English; it is wrong, always. To summarize,

  • its = possession
  • it's = "it is" OR "it has"
  • its' = does not exist
These three forms of i-t-s are called homophones (or homonyms). Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently and mean different things.

who's OR whose

Another common error is confusing whose with who's.

Error: The post office manager, who's mother is in the hospital, retired.

Again, these are two words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things, homophones (or homonyms). The word whose indicates possession; who's is a contraction for who is.

Correct Form: The post office manager, whose mother is in the hospital, retired.

you're OR your

Some students confuse your with you're.

Use the word your to indicate that something belongs to the person you're speaking to (hmmm).

Use you're when you are saying something about the person you are speaking to.

Error: The brown dog ran away with you're raincoat.

Think about this. Would you rewrite the sentence "The brown dog ran away with you are raincoat"? So the correct form is

Correct Form: The brown dog ran away with your raincoat.

The word your shows possession. You're means "you are."

they're, their, OR there

Here we have another error that confounds some student writers.

Error: Their not going to the movies until tonight.

Correct: They're not going to the movies until tonight.

The intended meaning is "Those people" (they) are not going to the movies until tonight.

The word their shows possession (their parking lot); they're means "they are"; there indicates location or a state of being, as in "There are three letters in the word cat."

For a detailed explanation and exercises in correcting apostrophe errors, download the free worksheets. The worksheets are in PDF format.

The front page describes common errors using the apostrophe. The second page consists of sentences that the student must correct. There is space provided below each sentence, so that the student actually has to write out the sentence, rather than merely identifying the error.

Worksheet 1, 9 Exercises

Rewrite each sentence using the apostrophe correctly.

  1. If you think your going to the movies, your mistaken!
  2. The boy who's dog was sent to the pound cried uncontrollably.
  3. A good dog always cleans its’ food bowl.
  4. The Sisters of Saint Joseph support they're convent with outside employment.
  5. Its never as good a deal as the salesperson makes it out to be.
  6. The rugby players promise that their not going to stop playing after August.
  7. Their not going to the carnival and your not either.
  8. Its never too late to apply, even when the registrar's office closes it's doors.
  9. Its’ important to realize whose actually using the computers in the lab.

Worksheet 2, 18 Exercises

  1. The orange tree wilted because it’s trunk was damaged severely.
  2. At its’ peak, the river crested at sixteen feet.
  3. The couple who’s son won the award swelled with pride as they walked out of the auditorium.
  4. Margaret asked, “Whose going to attend the ceremony?”
  5. If your going to the game, you should take a glove in case you catch a foul ball.
  6. You showed good manners when you gave up you’re seat to the elderly person.
  7. When they’re train arrived, the students quickly loaded the luggage.
  8. When Janice and Karen tell there parents that their going to the same college, their parents may buy them a car.
  9. Its never a good idea to spend more money than we earn.
  10. The old dog broke it’s paw when it fell from the sofa.
  11. Did Graham tell you whose been selected to the all-star team?
  12. After you have finish you’re lunch, please return to the classroom.
  13. The Johnsons are not going to cancel there vacation just because of bad weather.
  14. HLN promised it’s viewers complete coverage of the Casey Anthony trial.
  15. Its been eight years since we met, and I love you more than ever.
  16. Papa Bear growled, “Whose been sleeping in my bed?”
  17. As long as your going to the grocery story, could you please bring back a carton of eggs?
  18. The Mallory twins lost there tickets on the way to the Justin Bieber concert.

Links on Using the Apostrophe Correctly