Apostrophes replace missing letters
 
An apostrophe can be used to replace a letter (or letters). For example:

  • isn't
  • don't
  • can't
When this happens, a new word (called a contraction) is formed.
 

Apostrophes Replace Missing Letters

An apostrophe can be used to show that a letter (or letters) is missing from a word.

Using an apostrophe to replace a missing letter is not common in formal writing, where you'd expect all words to be written in full. (Using an apostrophe to replace a letter is extremely common, but it is generally reserved for informal writing. It is used to reflect how people speak.)

Examples:

  • The weather's bad.
    (Written in full: The weather is bad. In this example, the apostrophe replaces the letter i.)

  • Don't think about it. 
    (In full: Do not)

  • What horse c'ant you ride?  [correct the example]
    (The apostrophe is in the wrong place.)
    (Should be: can't)
    (In full: cannot)


Apostrophe error found in a Christmas cracker

  • Alan can't deliver on Tuesdays.
    (In full: cannot)

  • If you don't fail now and again, it's a sign you're playing it safe. (Woody Allen)
    (In full: do not / it is / you are)

  • Don't look now, but there's one too many in this room, and I think it's you. (Groucho Marx)
    (In full: do not / there is / it is)

  • Blood's not thicker than money. (Groucho Marx)
    (In full: blood is)

  • Sally is'nt able to complete her work.  [correct the example]
    (The apostrophe is in the wrong place.)

Only Use Apostrophes to Replace Letters in Standard Contractions

When an apostrophe replaces a letter, a new word is formed (most often, but not always, from two words originally). The new word is called a contraction.

You cannot invent your own contractions. Here is a list of common contractions in English:

ContractionOrginal
aren'tare not
can'tcannot
couldn'tcould not
didn'tdid not
doesn'tdoes not
don'tdo not
hadn'thad not
hasn'thas not
haven'thave not
he'dhe had, he would
he'llhe will, he shall
he'she is, he has
I'dI had, I would
I'llI will, I shall
I'mI am
I'veI have
isn'tis not
it'sit is, it has
let'slet us
mustn'tmust not
shan'tshall not
she'dshe had, she would
she'llshe will, she shall
she'sshe is, she has
shouldn'tshould not
that'sthat is, that has
there'sthere is, there has
they'dthey had, they would
they'llthey will, they shall
they'rethey are
they'vethey have
we'dwe had, we would
we'rewe are
we'vewe have
weren'twere not
what'llwhat will, what shall
what'rewhat are
what'swhat is, what has
what'vewhat have
where'swhere is, where has
who'dwho had, who would
who'llwho will, who shall
who'rewho are
who'swho is, who has
who'vewho have
won'twill not
wouldn'twould not
you'dyou had, you would
you'llyou will, you shall
you'reyou are
you'veyou have
 
DON'T CONFUSE YOU'RE & YOUR 

You're is short for you are.

  • You're a naughty boy.
  • The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. (Lily Tomlin)
Your is not short for you are. It is used to show possession.

  • This is your PC. 
  • This is you're PC.  
  • Your a star.
See the lesson on You're and Your

DON'T CONFUSE IT'S AND ITS

It's is short for it has or it is. (There are no other uses.) For example:

  • It's stopped raining, and it's sunny. 
Its, on the other hand, is similar to his and her and is used to show possession. For example:

  • I'm near the whale. I can see its tail.
  • This is it's fourth journey.
  • (its )
  • Its as easy as falling off a log.
  • (it's )
  • A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. (Winston Churchill)
See the lesson It's and Its

DON'T WRITE SHOULD OF

Should've sounds like should of, but it is short for should have. (This is the same for could've and would've.)

  • should of , could of , would of
WRITE CANNOT AS ONE WORD

As an expansion of can't, cannot is one word.

  • I can not stand in the rain for too long. 

  • A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. (Oscar Wilde)

  • Although rare, it is possible to see can and not as two separate words. However, this is not usually (see below) an expansion of can't.

    • Rebecca can not only sing but dance too.
    (Note: There is a lot of leniency on this ruling.  Many like to use can not over cannot for added emphasis.)

    NO APOSTROPHE IN OURS

    Words like ours, theirs, yours, and hers do not have apostrophes in them.

    • These books are ours. 
    • You can use our's. 
    • I saw theirs'.
    These are called absolute possessives
     
     
    DON'T INVENT CONTRACTIONS

    Words with apostrophes that replace letters are known as contractions. You should only use recognized ones:

    • g'tar (replacing the ui in guitar)

    • potato's (replacing the e in potatoes)
    WRITE THEM OUT IN FULL 

    In business writing, it is highly unusual to use contractions. You should write all words in their full forms.

    • Therefore, the delivery date can't be met.
    • (use cannot )
    • It's available for collection on Tuesday.
    • (use It is )
     


    See also:

    Using apostophes
    The apostrophe error with plurals
    Apostrophes in time (temporal) expressions
    Apostrophes to show the plural of abbreviations
    Apostrophes show possession


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