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The apostrophe: its rules and why it’s confusing

Many writers get tripped up about when the word “its” has an apostrophe and when it does not.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss the oftentimes confusing placement of the apostrophe.

The word “it’s” with an apostrophe is a contraction of “it is,” just as “can’t” is a contraction of “cannot.” If “its” is referring to the possession of something, no apostrophe is required. The same is true for the pronouns hers, ours and yours.

However, when it comes to plural possessives on names that end in an “s,” apostrophes can be tricky. In fact, not every style guide offers the same advice.  

“Some style guides will say always use apostrophe ‘s,’ with a couple of exceptions, which are Moses and Jesus,” Curzan explains. “Some will say it depends on pronunciation – if you would pronounce the extra syllable, you should put on the ‘s.’”

What punctuation marks confuse you? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below!

–Omar Saadeh, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
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