40 Spelling Rules – Ownership and Apostraphe

40 Spelling Rules - Ownership and Apostrophe



Hello, and welcome to the fifth mini-lesson on The 40 Rules of English, where we break down every beginner rule you need to know in English and ESL. Today we’re talking about two very important subjects in English spelling. This also happens to be the most difficult for native speakers to understand themselves. We know quite a few English speakers who get these rules wrong! Are you ready to tackle ownership and apostrophes? We sure are!


  1. To indicate possession or ownership by a person or object, an apostrophe (‘) followed by an “s” is added.

Let’s keep it simple, shall we? If you want to show possession, add an apostrophe and -s. That’s all! This works for both objects and people. So if you want to talk about the computer’s keyboard, or John’s keyboard, they both would add -’s. It doesn’t change just because of the subject. That’s what makes this formula so easy! Even if we’re talking about John’s computer’s keys. Yes, we would rewrite this sentence too, because it looks confusing. But it highlights our point pretty well that you just have to add -’s.


<iframe src="https://factsumo.com/game/5c6dcdb3001d1f4930ab1d88 frameborder="0" width="400" height="500"></iframe>


  1. To indicate ownership by a person whose name ends in an “s” or plural noun, add an apostrophe (‘).

Here is where people get a bit confused. Technically, James’s books would be correct. But some believe this looks a bit weird. So we’d say James’ books. What really matters here is consistency. If you write one way, stick to it. Otherwise, you’ll sound silly if you write a sentence like this: James’ cat and Chris’s dog hate each other. We hate that sentence. It looks bad. If there’s one thing to take away from English, it’s this: stay consistent with the rules you apply.


People get tripped up because of the plural-noun part of this rule. But it’s a lot easier than you think. When we talk about the foxes’ den, just add an apostrophe at the end of the foxes. This shows that multiple foxes own the one den. If we’re talking about one fox and one den, say the fox’s den. If one fox owns many dens, it becomes: the fox’s dens. If multiple foxes own multiple dens? The foxes’ dens. Easy stuff.


  1. An apostrophe (‘) is also used to create a contraction, indicating where a letter or letters have been left out.

Apostrophes are also used for some of our favorite things: contractions. Contractions are formed when you mash two words together using an apostrophe, and often letters are omitted from the resulting contraction. Native speakers of English use contractions all the time in writing. Even in formal writing, you’ll see contractions. In fact, our guide uses them without realizing, habitually. The best way to know them is by reading them, so be on the lookout. Don’t fret. You can’t go wrong if you’re practicing with FactSumo!


If this isn’t helping at all, and is only adding to your confusion, we’re here to help. Here are a few common contractions: won’t (will + not), shouldn’t (should + not), haven’t (have + not), can’t (can + not), don’t (do + not), who’s (who + is), aren’t (are + not). Note that some of these contractions are irregular, meaning they don’t follow the normal pattern of omitting the missing letters. If the list of contractions weren’t so big, we’d write them all out for you!




Some of the biggest problems people have with apostrophes has to do with the contraction “it’s”. Let’s clear this up, as we wrap up this guide. The contraction “it’s” is a combination of “it” and “is”. That is all. “Its”, however, without an apostrophe, shows possession. “The tree lost its branch.” Here is a correct sentence. If you’re unsure, replace “its” with “it’s”, and see if it still makes sense. Does, “the tree lost it is branch” make any sense? No.


We’re glad you joined us for our fifth episode: ownership and apostrophes! Want to sharpen those skills and prove to yourself you have what it takes to master the first steps of English spelling? We’re proud of you (and we’re here to help)! That means you’re ready for mini-lesson six: the other rules. If you aren’t quite ready, that’s OK! Use this lesson as a guide, and keep practicing every day. Practice builds the confidence you need to tackle even the most difficult of concepts. Check out our paths, decks, and other lessons today! See you next time.