PSLE Grammar | It’s Time! Stop Neglecting the Apostrophe – 2 Functions!

“I wont know if its right.”

Did you notice that a very important punctuation mark is missing in the above? Yes, it is the apostrophe! Today, I am going to talk about the punctuation mark called the apostrophe. To start off, know that it occurs alone and should not be confused with the inverted commas(single or double) which always occur in a pair (“ ”).

Very frequently, students are penalised for grammatical errors in composition writing and comprehension due to the apostrophe being wrongly used or absent. If you are sighing because that has happened to you before, cheer up because we are going to learn more about this punctuation mark to help you.

There are several uses of this punctuation mark in English but we will take a closer look at the two most common functions of an apostrophe.

1. To show possession

A possessive word form shows who or what something belongs to.

PSLE Grammar | To show possession

The ’s shows possession. In the sentence above, it means that the car belongs to my father.

However, there are four main rules to look out for when forming a possessive(’s).

(a) For plural nouns that end with “s”, add the apostrophe(’) at the back of the noun

To show possession. Grammar

Note that this applies to singular nouns that end with “s” as well.

To show possession. Grammar

(b) For plural nouns that do not end with “s”, add ’s to the back of the noun. 

To show possession. Grammar

(c) To form joint possession of an object, use ’s at the back of the second noun.

To show possession. Grammar

From the above example, we can understand that the little brother belongs to both Jay and Ben, which mean they are the older brothers.

However, to form separate possession of similar objects, the ’s should be added to both nouns.

To show possession. Grammar

In the above example, it is clear that both Jay and Ben have little brothers, but they do not share the little brother.

(d) Do not use apostrophes for possessive pronouns.

Examples of possessive pronouns: his, her, theirs, ours, my, yours, its

Take a look at the example below.

Do not use apostrophes for possessive pronouns. Grammar

Can you tell what is wrong with the above sentence?

To understand better, let’s look at the second use of apostrophe.

2. To form contractions

A contraction is a word or phrase that has been shortened by dropping one or more letters.

An apostrophe is used to indicate the place of the missing letters.

Contractions are commonly used in written dialogues or in informal writing. Remember this while writing your composition, situational writing and in crafting your answers for comprehension!

You will also commonly find contractions in sentences that test you on question tags in the grammar MCQ section. We will now take a look at a few common contractions that we may encounter.

(a) ’s – is/has

This is a tricky one. Previously, we have covered that ’s is used to show possession, but it is important to know that ’s can also be used as a contraction! (e.g. he’s, here’s, that’s, it’s…)

The first contraction of ’s is the word “is”. (e.g. he’s = he is)

Back to the above example. Note that “its” is a possessive pronoun. To correct the sentence, we need an apostrophe.

To form contractions. Grammar

How do we know which to use (its or it’s)?

Tip: Check if the second object belongs to anything that has been mentioned! If it is a belonging, then use the possessive pronoun (its)!

The second contraction of ’s is the word “has”. (e.g. he’s = he has)

(a) ’s - is/has

How do we know if the ’s is to show possession or a contraction of “has”?

Tip: Check if the word after the ’s is a past participle form of a verb. If it a past participle, then the ’s would be a contraction of “has”. (Grammar rule: after has/have/had, always use the past participle form of a verb)

For example, look at the example below:

(a) ’s - is/has. Grammar

“Run” can be both a noun (a run) or a past participle (take note that it is an irregular verb – run/ran/run).

However, note that the word “twice” suggests that the word “run” is most probably used as a verb, therefore, the ’s is most likely a contraction! (i.e. Sammy has run twice around the field!)

(b) ’d – had/would

The first use of ’d is the contraction of the word “had”. (e.g. he’d, they’d, it’d…)

Let’s look at the Grammar question below:

(b) ’d - had/would. Grammar

In the above example, since we know that ’d is a contraction of “had” then the answer should be the opposite which is “hadn’t” (i.e. had not).

The second use of ’d is the contraction of the word “would”. (e.g. he’d, they’d, it’d…)

Let’s look at the Grammar question below:

(b) ’d - had/would. Grammar

In the above example, since we know that ’d is a contraction of “would”, then the answer should be “wouldn’t” (i.e. would not).

Let’s look at one more Grammar example:

(b) ’d - had/would. Grammar

How do we know if the contraction here means “had” or “would”?

Tip: look at the verb after the contraction. If the verb is an infinitive, then the contraction ’d is the word “would”. (Grammar rule: after will/would, an infinitive(no -ing, no -s/es, no -d/-ed) will be used.)

Therefore, the answer should be “wouldn’t” since “be” is an infinitive which means the contraction here is “would”.

(c) n’t – not

The contraction n’t is the word “not”. (e.g. don’t, didn’t, wouldn’t, won’t etc…)

Look at this Grammar example question:

(c) n’t - not. Grammar

Important to note: “won’t” is a contraction of “will not”, while “wouldn’t” is a contraction of “would not”.

Therefore the above answer should be “will”.

Here is a list of common contractions with n’t:

(d) Other common contractions – ’ve / I’m / let’s

(d) Other common contractions - ’ve / I’m / let’s. Grammar

The contraction ‘ve stands for the word “have”. (e.g. they’ve, you’ve, we’ve…)

Example sentence:

(d) Other common contractions - ’ve / I’m / let’s. Grammar

The contraction “I’m” stands for “I am”.

Example sentence:

(d) Other common contractions - ’ve / I’m / let’s. Grammar

Important note: The contraction “I’m” is always paired with “aren’t I”.

Last but not least, the contraction “let’s” stands for “let us”.

Example sentence:

(d) Other common contractions - ’ve / I’m / let’s. Grammar

Important note: The contraction “Let’s” is always paired with “shall we?”

Knowing theses common contractions can be very useful when it comes to grammar question tags questions.

It is also important to note the use of contractions is usually found in informal writing, therefore, avoid using contractions in your answers for Comprehension open-ended and in compositions(except when used in written dialogues).

However, contractions can be used in informal situational writing(when writing to a friend or family member). For example, before signing off, you can add in a sentence, “Let’s meet up soon!”

I hope that you have enjoyed this post and learnt something new today! Do you know how to correct the sentence that starts the post earlier (I wont know if its right!)? Feel free to comment below to share your answer and any questions regarding the use of apostrophe!


Grammar Grandma Bites

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1. Over 30 bite-size video lessons!

2. Unique strategies to tackle a wide range of grammar topics e.g. subject-verb agreement, neither/either type questions, collective nouns etc.

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Ms. Sze Li

Ms Tan Sze Li is an English Teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. As a teacher, she strongly believes that learning is a journey for everyone – student and teacher alike. After every lesson, the students leave with new knowledge. Her hope is to inspire students to become inquisitive learners who will spark a change in the world with their thirst for knowledge.

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