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Apostrophes, Adjectives and Adverbs, the Conditional: More Common Mistakes in Writing and Speaking English

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Ann is a retired teacher of literacy and EFL (English as a foreign language) to multi-national and dyslexic students, having a DipSpLD.

Definition of Apostrophe


Apostrophe or Not?

The misuse or lack of use of apostrophes where needed drives me mad! I'll qualify that; it drives me mad when those who abuse them are professionals.

I don't expect the whole world to know about them, I don't expect those for whom English is a second language to always get them right, I don't expect the local greengrocer to write correctly his board advertising today's cheap vegetables "Fresh Green's!" (should be Fresh Greens - no apostrophe)

An apostrophe is used in two situations:

  • to indicate an omission of a letter or letters
  • to indicate possession (sometimes!)

It can be a problem for many but is simpler than you think.

Let's take the omission of letters first.

Omission of Letters

"I cannot do that" sounds a bit stilted if we say it. Normal conversation is not like that, we do not talk this way.

Instead we say, "I can't do that", normal conversation "isn't" like that and we "don't" talk that way.

"cannot" becomes "can't"; we have taken out the letters /no/, so we replace them by an apostrophe.

"is not" becomes "isn't"; this time we've removed the /o/.

"do not" becomes "don't", again by removing the /o/.

"we have" becomes "we've", by removing the letters /ha/.

'we are' becomes "we're".

Other examples are: What's (what is), they're (they are), it's (it is)

Do you get the picture? Simple really, isn't it?

Missing Letters

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This is usually the one that catches out so many writers.

I mentioned the greengrocer's sign. He was talking about "greens", as in green vegetables. This is the plural, more than one, where all you need to do is add the letter /s/.

In the first sentence of this paragraph is the word "greengrocer's"; I was talking about his sign, the sign belonging to one greengrocer, the greengrocer's sign. The sign belongs to him so we have to put an apostrophe to indicate the possession.

Now comes the complicated part!

If you have more than one person to whom an object or objects belong, the apostrophe goes after the letter /s/. Here's an example:

Singular - one girl: The girl had some chewing gum. It was the girl's chewing gum.

Plural - two or more girls: The girls had some beer (to share between them)! It was the girls' beer.

Plural - two or more girls + two or more bags: The girls had some bags. They were the girls' bags.

It's only the number of people or things to which something belongs which affects the position of the apostrophe.

There are also plurals with /es/ instead of a single /s/:

foxes, boxes

In this case, the apostrophe still goes after the /s/:

The foxes' coats were a vibrant russett.

Ann's Bike!

Mine, all Mine!

Mine, all Mine!

Names Ending in /s/

One more thing; people's names ending in /s/.

James, Rees, Frances, Doris are just a few. English is kind to you for this one; you can choose!

James has a cat. It's James' cat or it's James's cat. You usually hear two of the letter /s/ when you say it so you can add the extra /s/ if you wish.

Doris owns a house. It's Doris' house. It's Doris's house. Which one do you prefer?

Singular & Plural

Little me in Granddad's Boots!

Little me in Granddad's Boots!

At some friends' celebration.

At some friends' celebration.

Beware the Irregular Plurals

There are plural words which are not made by simply adding an /s/ to the single. For example:

men, women, people (already plural words), sheep (the same for singular & plural).

These words take an apostrophe before the /s/, just like the single word:

'The men's trousers were beautifully embroidered!' (all the men had beautifully embroidered trousers, or all the trousers for men were beautifully embroidered).

'The people's party voted for change.'

'The sheep's foot was damaged.' (one sheep). 'The sheep's field was huge.' (all the sheep)

Plural words

The children's playground.

The children's playground.

It's & Its

I'm always asked about this one. It's a pig of an issue.

Notice I've used "it's" in that second sentence. What's that short for? You've got it - "it is". It's a contraction so follows the same rules as our first section in that a letter is missing and you've substituted an apostrophe. Easy, eh?

Ok. So now the word "Its". Take a deep breath!

Think about "his" and "hers". It belongs to him so it is "his". It belongs to her so it is "hers". A logical progression is that if it belongs to it, then we write "its", NO apostrophe.

his, hers, its - simple, yes? Yes.

Look at the following examples for clarification:

It's the tenth time today the dog has jumped through its hoop. (It is the tenth time today that the dog has jumped through the hoop that belongs to it.)

It's time that bird had its wings clipped. (It is time someone clipped the wings that belong to that bird.)

See why we need the word "its"? Bit long-winded without it, don't you think?

It's a tractor. Its wheels are yellow.

The tractor's wheels are yellow.

The tractor's wheels are yellow.

Nouns & Adjectives

Ok. Now we'll move on to Adjectives and Adverbs. To understand these, firstly we have to look at nouns and adjectives.

A noun is a thing, object, or person, such as "a table", "a boy", "a piece of paper".

We often want to know what a noun is like, we need to describe it. We use an adjective to describe a noun.

The baby was ugly. ("baby" is the noun, "ugly" is the adjective)

The information was correct. ("information" - noun; "correct" - adjective)

There are various types of nouns but we'll stick to the basics for now.

He put the pretty picture on the brick wall. Can you spot the nouns and the adjectives? Nouns - "picture" & "wall"; adjectives - "pretty" & "brick": excellent, well done! Yes, well spotted, "brick" can be a noun as well but here it is used as an adjective.

You're starting to wonder why I'm stating the obvious aren't you?

It's because we need these basics to go on to where many make mistakes - the adverbs! "Oh no", I hear you cry, "Not the adverbs!"

A colourful, stripy Gromit!

This is a stripy Gromit.

This is a stripy Gromit.

Verbs & Adverbs

Adverbs are directly connected to verbs.

A verb is a "doing" word, in its basic form preceded by "to", such as "to do", "to make", "to ski", "to play football".

The adverb plays its part by telling us how the verb is done.

He played football. That's rather a boring sentence. We're not really interested. However, if I tell you that he played football scintillatingly, you're beginning to take a little more interest. The word "scintillatingly" is an adverb. An adverb usually has the letters "ly" at the end (but not always; English is full of exceptions as you well know). It tells you how he played.

So, look at the following:

The boy played good. WRONG! The boy played well (there's one of the exceptions). Good is an adjective, well is the adverb.

The boy played a good game. Correct! The word "good" refers to the game, not how the boy played.

I've made a wonderful (adjective) cake. I made it carefully (adverb). Are you beginning to get the idea? I hope so.

Find the Adverbs!

We posed perfectly on this auspicious occasion.

We posed perfectly on this auspicious occasion.

(My Mum took this photo.)  They looked proudly at their daughter whilst I gazed lovingly at my gentle Mum.

(My Mum took this photo.) They looked proudly at their daughter whilst I gazed lovingly at my gentle Mum.

The Verb "to be"

Just when you think you've got this verb/adverb thing, I'm going to disappoint you. "To be" is a verb which tells you about the state of someone or something. It tells you how they are.

I am clever. He is wonderful. They are magnificent.

When using this verb you only need adjectives.

You can't say, "He is handsomely." You know this of course; I'm just making sure that you realise "to be" is a verb.

Right, we've got that out of the way, let's move on!

The Conditional

Don't panic! This is the last section. I have to get this off my chest.

The conditional is all to do with possibilities, there being conditions as to whether or not something will happen. The conditional goes with words like "if", "would", "should".

"He would make a pie if only he had the ingredients." (He can't make a pie but he would like to.)

"Would that he had said hello to her!" (It would have been a good idea but he didn't say hello.)

"I don't think he should do that." (It's not a good idea for him to do that.)

The problems seem to be mainly with the subjunctive "were". It seems that, more and more, "was" is being used instead of "were". Ok, so language evolves but it still gives a slightly different meaning.

"If I were to come over tonight, would you be available?" There is a distinct possibility that you won't go. (I might not come over but if I did....)

Giving advice is a situation where this is used more often. "If I were you, I'd think twice about going out with him." (I'm not you but, put in your position, I would.....)

If only I were there.......

If I were there again, I'd tell them how great they were.

If I were there again, I'd tell them how great they were.

The Minefield of Language

The English language can seem like a minefield but most of it is fairly logical once you get used to it! If you want to make it your profession or at least use it frequently, then it's up to you to be the best you can and learn as much as possible.

If English is your second language, then that's a different kettle of fish. Hats off to you if you can speak it well, make yourself understood most of the time and write it with few mistakes. I'll allow you the benefit of the doubt if there are some errors.

I speak French fairly well and write it too but that's the only language other than English of which I can claim knowledge. If I could even speak another language as well as some ESL hubbers write English then I would be happy.

However, if English is your first language, please check if you're not sure about grammar. There are some excellent grammar reference books out there. The quantity is overwhelming but I would recommend those which come under the Oxford University Press banner as they tend to be the best.

Writing from the heart, with a passion about something with which you are familiar will get you a long way. Words are the building bricks, good spelling and grammar are the scaffolding that supports your work. Strong scaffolding will set your work high and make it go even farther.

Good Luck!

Grammar is the Scaffolding Holding it all Together

Words are the building bricks.  Grammar is the scaffolding, the support you build around them.

Words are the building bricks. Grammar is the scaffolding, the support you build around them.

English Pitfalls

© 2014 Ann Carr


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 09, 2015:

Thanks, Catherine. Your hubs on grammar are always brilliant.

Yes, the apostrophe is so difficult for some. It doesn't always matter but it does if the professionals get it wrong!

Thanks for the visit; good to see you as always.


Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on May 09, 2015:

Good work Ann explaining these grammar points. Some of your pictures were adorable. The apostrophe can be tricky.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 24, 2015:

Hi, Dolores! You are quite right regarding the men and the girls! I think I was having a bird brain moment with the chickens - probably thinking about the word 'chicken' used for the meat in general - so I've amended that. Thanks for being so vigilant!

Lovely to see you here. Hope (in the end!) that this helped with your plural possessives.


Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on February 23, 2015:

Hi Ann - I have a terrible time with plural possessive. Looking at your irregular plural possessives, I am thinking that if the word itself is a plural like men as the plural for man, then you write the word "men's." But since the word "girls" is the same as the singular "girl + s" that's when you add the apostrophe after the S ?

But you included "chicken" in the irregulars and chicken (sick of putting in quotes, I better read your hub on quotes) is the same if it's singular or plural. ?

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

Hi again, Faith! Yes, apostrophes are fine in print these days, as long as they're used properly.

I've a few more hubs waiting to be finalised after the holidays so it's good to get going again. Great to see you twice today!


Faith Reaper from southern USA on August 02, 2014:

Hi Ann,

I came here again looking for your latest hub I thought I saw yesterday on my phone that popped in. But in doing so, I noticed in my initial comment here, that I stated I tend to underuse apostrophes ... as I, for some reason, tend to write out the entire word instead of writing it as we speak normally. I always seem to write out the word "cannot" and now I am reminded once again it is okay to use contractions more such as "can't" as we do in normal speech.

Glad to see you publishing again.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

Thank you carrie! I'm glad I've managed to pass something on and thanks for the second visit - much appreciated.


Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on August 02, 2014:

I learned something new today ! :). Thank you so much. Voted up and useful.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 21, 2014:

Mel: Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment. The usual spelling rule for doubling consonants is that you ask the question, "Is the preceding vowel short or long?' e.g. dig (short i) becomes digging; hope (long o) becomes hoping (otherwise it's hopping, the continuous of hop!). Easy!

You're right, spell checkers are a great help, as long as you can recognise which choice you need!

Great to see you! Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 21, 2014:

RTalloni: Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay in responding; don't know how I missed that. Yes, proof-reading is essential and can halve the errors! Have a great day! Ann

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 20, 2014:

I think through the years I have come to master these issues. My big problem is spelling issues where double consonants are involved, but now we have spell check so there is no need to bust my noodle trying to master that. I too am outraged by the misuse of the apostrophe by people in high positions that should know better. Great hub!

RTalloni on July 11, 2014:

Refreshing my memory is always good so thanks for an interesting read that writers can benefit from. Good methodical proofreading is a best friend that we ignore too often… :)

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 04, 2014:

Thanks, Eddy, for reading and leaving your comments. Good to see you.


Eiddwen from Wales on July 04, 2014:

Very useful and well informed. voting up and sharing.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 01, 2014:

Thanks for the visit, Victoria. I don't really understand the problem with it either but it exists everywhere so thought I'd try to explain! I'm a grammar geek too!

I much appreciate you stopping by. Ann

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on June 30, 2014:

Very well explained! I've never understood why people have such problem with putting apostrophes on words that aren't possessive. :-) But, then again, I've always been in love with grammar! Great hub!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 26, 2014:

Glad you found it useful Nell. There's no shame in having difficulty with some parts of language; think of it as a mental block! Your visit is much appreciated. Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 26, 2014:

Thanks WillStarr! I appreciate your visit. Ann

Nell Rose from England on June 25, 2014:

This is really useful, I don't mind admitting it, like always, just above the comment, I am useless when it comes to that darn Apostrophe! lol! I think I know, then the pc yells at me and underlines it, so I think, is it right? or is the computer right? lol! great advice, thanks

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on June 24, 2014:

Your so smart.

(Just teasing!)

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 23, 2014:

Ebonny, thank you for your kind comments and I'm glad you found this useful. Apologies for not responding sooner; I'm now back in England and trying to catch up! I appreciate your visit. Ann

Ebonny from UK on May 12, 2014:

This is another very useful hub from you Ann. I am bookmarking it for future reference when I am in doubt on the topics covered. Well explained and easy to follow. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. :-D

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 24, 2014:

R.Q., I love your example, oldie or not! It's one of the great ones because it makes us laugh.

Apologies for being late in responding to your comment; wifi in France is hit and miss when moving around the countryside! Will be back into the swing of things by the end of May at the latest.

Thanks for stopping by; always great to see you. Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 24, 2014:

creativelycc: thank you for reading and I'm glad you found this useful. I appreciate your comment. Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 24, 2014:

You're welcome, Audrey, and thank you for your kind comment.

Apologies for being late in replying; I've been without wifi for a couple of weeks. Ann

Romeos Quill from Lincolnshire, England on April 13, 2014:

P.S. It's a bit of an oldie. I hope you like cheese :)

Enjoy a pleasant week.


Romeos Quill from Lincolnshire, England on April 13, 2014:

i/ Let's eat grandad!

ii/Let's eat, grandad.

Punctuation saves lives :)

There's always room for personal improvement, and most of us certainly make these mistakes from time to time.

Thank you Ann.

Carrie L Cronkite from Maine on April 13, 2014:

This is excellent English lesson, I'm going to print this out and use it as a reference. Thank you!

Audrey Howitt from California on April 13, 2014:

Useful with clear examples-Thank you for this!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 13, 2014:

Glad to be of help teaches! It seems to be one that many have difficulty with. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Much appreciated. Ann

Dianna Mendez on April 12, 2014:

I so need to pin this to my office wall. My brain gets tangled when it comes to proper usage of apostrophes. Thank you!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 09, 2014:

Thanks Frank. I appreciate your comment. Your grammar is obviously inbuilt, then, because it seems pretty good to me!

By the way, congrats on the response to your poetry challenge. It's going really well, isn't it? I love the occasional challenges here on hubpages. Ann

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on April 09, 2014:

im not that crazy about grammar... if the message is clear that's good enough for me...:) but this is a great hub Annart :)

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 08, 2014:

Thanks, Kathleen. Good to see you. I'm afraid I'm a bit of a purist but that's how I was taught and I often yell at the tv when the professionals get the basic stuff wrong! I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Ann

Kathleen Odenthal from Bridgewater on April 08, 2014:

Good post Ann! I am a bit of a grammar nazi myself and you touched on lots of great stuff!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 07, 2014:

Me too. I almost just placed an exclamation right there.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 07, 2014:

The main thing people overuse is the exclamation mark and I am one of the worst offenders!!! I have to physically restrain my finger from the key....! I do think that most people really know these things, it's just the occasional reminder that's needed.

Thank you so much for your comment and votes. Ann

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 07, 2014:

Ann, Thank you for these great reminders. I am one to underuse the apostrophe as I remember reading somewhere we should not use too many, but you are so right as we do not speak in such a manner. Great hub. Up and more.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 07, 2014:

tobusiness: You are a good writer. I don't think you need to cringe over any of your hubs. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment and votes. Ann

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on April 07, 2014:

Ann, a very useful hub! I know I cringe every time I go back to my old hubs. Up and sharing.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 07, 2014:

Thank you, DDE. I'm glad you found it helpful. I like your writing. From an EFL teacher's point of view, I'd like to help by suggesting that when you proof-read, just add a few commas and full stops where natural pauses are required. I hope you don't mind my saying this. You have great ideas which deserve to be read with ease and flow.

If you want any proof-reading done, I'm happy to help without charge.

Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you have a great day. Ann

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 07, 2014:

Valuable information here a simple to read and understand hub with all helpful points here.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 06, 2014:

I know the problem, bill! Sunday is going well thanks. Bit rainy but peaceful.

Great to hear from you as always. Yes, I hope there are a few who will benefit from this.

Some people tell me that grammar is not important, that it's the words and the creativity that count. I understand what they mean but without the bedrock of grammar we lose meaning and reading becomes difficult.

I'm a purist, I know, and maybe I take it too far occasionally but that's just me. Take it or leave it, warts and all!!

Hope your day is peaceful and fun! Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 06, 2014:

Thanks, John! I don't think you need much help either but I appreciate your comment and your support. Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 06, 2014:

Hi Jamie! Haven't noticed you needing this but good to hear from you. Thanks so much for the comment. Ann

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2014:

Good morning Ann!

Keep writing these articles, please. Hopefully some writers on HP will read them and learn. My biggest problem with apostrophes? I tend to hold the shift key down too long with contractions, and my apostrophes always end up quotation marks. LOL People think I don't know the difference when in fact I simply can't get my darned fingers off of the keys at the right time. :)

Have a great Sunday my friend.


John Hansen from Gondwana Land on April 06, 2014:

Hi Ann, another good helpful hub. I have had a few grammar problems from time to time but I think I am improving. It is always good to read hubs like this to remind us to take care with our writing. Well written.

Jamie Lee Hamann from Reno NV on April 06, 2014:

Always good to read up on grammar, mine needs the work. Well done. Jamie

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 06, 2014:

Thank you so much, always exploring. 'Helpful' was my aim and your 'easy to follow' comment is the best compliment I could have. Enjoy your day! Ann

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 06, 2014:

This is really helpful, i'm not ashamed to admit it. Your teaching is very easy to follow. Thank you much..

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