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ESL/EFL Teachers - How to Use the Apostrophe

Andrew is a TEFL graduate and has recently taught classes in the UK. A keen traveller and article writer, he has also tutored 1:1 abroad.

A Song All About Apostrophes

Use of the Apostrophe

Some people can get very confused when it comes to apostrophes - the little punctuation marks used to denote possession or contraction - as in for example:

David's shoe (possession: the shoe belonging to David) or, I can't see (contraction: I cannot see).

You can make the use of apostrophes (') that much easier by having your students go through the following 10 simple exercises.

Not only will they benefit from the writing practice but once they become familiar with apostrophes they'll be more confident of using them in the future.

There is also guidance on using its and it's, two little words that can cause a whole pile of meaning to collapse!

You'll find useful tips (and answers) in the blue boxes! At the end of the article there are links to other helpful ESL pages.

Don't forget to give feedback to your students. Happy and successful teaching!


Exercise 1

Place the apostrophe in the correct position :







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Apostrophe Tip

Which of the following is correct?

1. 1990's

2. 1990s

3. '60s

4. '60's

Numbers 2 and 3 are correct.

Exercise 2

Put the apostrophes in the correct position in the following sentences:

'Mr Smiths mobile phone costs three times more than yours', Mrs Jones.

A gooses egg is larger than a hens.

The girls books were kept in a special locker.

Take the books to Davids father please.

Where are Jessicas belongings?

He gave his friends laptops to Miss Johnsons secretary.


Its ...........or It's?

It's quite simple really. When you contract it is you use the apostrophe as a substitute for the letter i.

So It is quite simple really becomes It's quite simple really.

Similarly, when you contract it has you also need the apostrophe.

It has been a truly great Olympics becomes It's been a truly great Olympics.

If it's the idea of possession you want to focus on then you don't need an apostrophe.

A larger print of the work which attracted its author.

Please see if the animal is happy and that its cage is locked.

Exercise 3

Insert the one apostrophe in the following sentences:

Some of the guitars strings had snapped.

He forgot to take Bens order in the restaurant.

The childrens hats were very dirty.

All the kings horses looked a little confused.


An example of wrong and right use of the apostrophe.

An example of wrong and right use of the apostrophe.

Useful Tip

Which of the following is correct?

1. The Useful Companies facilities

2. The Useful Companie's facilities

3. The Useful Companies's facilities

4. The Useful Companies' facilities

Yes that's right, it's number 4. Possession is involved so there has to be an apostrophe. The facilities belong to the company with the unlikely name of The Useful Companies!

Exercise 4

Put the apostrophes in the right place:

Theyre not to be used, Im afraid.

Youre only a short distance away from Waterstones.

The birds feathers were covered in thick oil.

Many childrens lives are happy.


Exercse 5

Insert the apostrophes correctly:

My new cars headlights are stronger than those on my brothers.

Neither Jessicas nor Davids hair was dyed.

In the corner of the supermarket we found some free range hens eggs.

Tom took the remaining passengers tickets to the head office.

The girls coats were soaked so they put them in a warm room.


It's wrong, right?

It's wrong, right?

Exercise 6

Put the apostrophes in their correct positions:










Which of these is incorrect?

1. Mrs Simons's purse

2. Mrs Simons' purse

3. Mr Plessis' house

4. Mr Plessis's house

None. All are correct. The apostrophe shows possession and that is the important factor, despite the clumsy sounding sentence. In the UK and USA you may find 1 and 4 more common. Numbers 2 and 3 are used more in countries like Australia.

Exercise 7

Put the apostrophe in the right places:

Well show you if your lines active during set-up.

An Ethernet cable isnt affected, so if your computers near use that cable.

The dogs got fleas and one is hopping about on its back.

What is my friends name?

Her future is in the arts, thats for sure.


Exercise 8

The following sentences are from famous books. Place the apostrophe in the right positions:

And if any actors really good, you can always tell he knows hes good, and that spoils it.

They had explained away Harrys long absences at Hogwarts over the last three years by telling everyone that he went to St Brutuss Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys.

If itd been something I was hearing late at night and for the first time, Id have thought it was somebody dying, or else something wild and dangerous.


Is this the plural of taxi? No, it's not!

Is this the plural of taxi? No, it's not!

Exercise 9

Correct the following sentences:

The weathers not so good now but later its going to be warm and well be able to go out.

Whats the point of todays meeting?

Theyve made a decision and arent going to change their minds.

Its said youll vote for the President despite the economic gloom hes supposed to have caused?



Wallace Stevens's poems - singular possession so you use (') + s.

The class's poems - singular possession so use (') + s.

The classes' poems - plural possession (more than one class!) so form plural + (').

Exercise 10

Put the apostrophes in the correct positions:

Lets make some tea then its sure to get better.

Well try and get through, thats what shed have wanted.

Its the best vegetarian meal Ive ever had.

I told you, were half way through Mr Carvers book of short stories.


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© 2012 Andrew Spacey

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