Apostrophes and Possessive Nouns
What is the first thing you notice in these four images? They are all some kind of announcements or statements. Right!
What else do you see? Misplaced apostrophes!! If that’s what you see, then you are right there.
All these four images are from real life situations and not some made up banners for entertainment. People who put them up mean serious business. Unfortunately, the misplaced apostrophe is not making it sound so serious.
This is the deal with all kind of punctuation marks. They either make the deal or completely break it. Heard of the proverbial comma killed a man joke?
Apostrophe and its Uses
An Apostrophe generally indicates possession or omission; the former in the case of a noun and the latter in case of omitting a letter. For instance
– The apostrophe in this case indicates possession. Meaning the book belongs to John. One way to be sure about possession is to rephrase the sentence and see if it makes sense. Let’s see how this works. Let’s say you have a sentence like this:-
Europe’s got a rich cultural heritage.
What you have to think about now is, will the sentence make sense when rephrased.
The cultural heritage of Europe is rich.
This is a case which mandates the use of Apostrophe with the noun.
Examples to indicate omissions are can’t and don’t
, which are replacements for can not and do not
Another common usage mistake of apostrophe is with plural nouns. For instance, in the image above the word ‘childrens’ has not been punctuated well. Let’s talk about this with an example.
This is a childrens park.
How would you correct this? Where should the apostrophe be?
It is important to understand the intent of the sentence to place the punctuation mark, in this case, the apostrophe. The sentence intends to communicate that a specific area is a park identified for children.
The correct way of writing this sentence would then be:
This is a children’s park.
This sentence indicates possession.
Add an apostrophe with a ‘s’ to convey possession for singular or a plural nouns that do not end with the letter ‘s’.
So how do you handle possessive nouns that end with the letter ‘s’?
This can be tricky one. You need to understand the context in which the word has been used. Let’s look at a few examples.
Every dancers goal was to win the finale.
Each of the dancers goal was to win the finale
Where will you place the apostrophe in these two sentences and why? Answering the ‘why’ to yourself will help you place the apostrophe right.
In the first sentence, though we are talking about the aim of every one of the dancers, the context indicates a collective noun. So the apostrophe comes after the ‘s’ in the word dancers.
Every dancers’ goal was to win the finale.
In the second sentence, we are talking about the goal of each one of the dancers. So the apostrophe comes before the ‘s’ in the word dancers.
Each of the dancer’s goal was to win the finale.
Sentences like these can get really confusing. But, they are important for your SAT prep.
SAT and Apostrophes
As a serious SAT aspirant, it is super important that you get your apostrophes right. The SAT does test you on this knowledge. Here are some real SAT questions on Apostrophes.
Source: The College Board
What do you think these questions are testing you on? Yes, possessive nouns. So, how would you go about answering them?
Let’s (an omission for let us) look at each of them.
SAT Example 1
One look at the passage and the answer choices, you know that this question is testing your knowledge of possessives. The underlined words – ‘bodies biological clocks’ are the ones that need to be understood in the context of the passage. Bodies and biological clocks are two different nouns. By now you know that ‘biological clocks’ is a plural noun. At the same time it is important to note that there is no word in the sentence so far which claims a possessive relationship with ‘biological clocks’. So answer choices B and D are not suitable. Answer choice A is not valid in this case, as we definitely need to establish the possessive connection. So by elimination the correct answer is choice C.
There is also another way to deduce this answer – by checking the intent of the flow of words. The sentence means to say that biological clocks of the body are controlled by circadian rhythms. Hence there is a possessive connection. At the same time, it is not about a particular group of bodies. It is a generic statement that applies to anybody. So the choice is “body’s”.
SAT Example 2
The answer choices to this particular excerpt of a passage indicate that we need to understand the possessive connection or the lack of it for the word – waterways. Going by the intent of the passage, there is no possessive connection. This naturally eliminates answer choices B and D. In between A and C, answer choice C and the tense of the passage do not match. That leaves us with answer choice A.
Sometimes the possessive nouns both singular and plural along with usage of apostrophe can get quite confusing. It is important to check the intent and the context of the passage before choosing the answer.