Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Apostrophes and Possessive Pronouns

If you can learn this concept, you will be amazed at its applicability across multiple scenarios. It will help you know when to use its or when to use it's. It can help you chose when to use either your or you're. It can even help you know when to not use they're when you should really be using their. Memorize this:

Possessive pronouns DO NOT use an apostrophe.

Just to make sure we are on the same page, let me define possessive pronoun.

A possessive is when something belongs to somebody. Usually, when a noun possesses something it is indicated with an apostrophe. Such as:

John's house. (John owns the house)
Bob's wrench. (Bob owns the wrench)
Tiffany's Pokemon cards. (Tiffany owns the cards)

See? They all contain apostrophes.

A pronoun is a type of noun that functions as a replacement for something or someone. For example:

John likes cheese. He particularly loves Parmesan. (He is a replacement for John)
Mary skips to school. She just can't wait to get there. (She is a replacement for Mary)
I love my job. It fulfills me. (It is a replacement for my job. As a bonus, both I and me are replacements for... ummmm... yours truly)

So, like nouns, pronouns can also own or possess something. However, when this happen it does not use an apostrophe like a noun does. NEVER. No exception. So, once again, remember:

Possessive pronouns DO NOT use an apostrophe.

Just as a reminder, an apostrophe has two uses. The first, as mentioned above, is to show possession. But it is also used to make contractions, i.e., turn two words into one. It is = it's. They are = they're. Do not = don't.

Pretend you are writing, and not reading the overly long blog post. You come up to a part where your brain says, "Put an its/it's right here" but you aren't sure which one you are supposed to use. Just think it through.

The way I usually think it through is to first see if it works as a contraction. If it does work that way, you can safely use the form with the apostrophe. Otherwise, it is a possessive pronoun.

Its/It's going to be a cold day.
It is going to be a cold day.
(That works! It's a contraction; use the apostrophe)
It's going to be a cold day.

My book keeps falling out of its/it's cover.
My book keeps falling out of it is cover.
(That doesn't work. It's a possessive pronoun; DO NOT use an apostrophe)
My book keeps falling out of its cover.

You have lost your/you're mind?
You have lost you are mind?
(That doesn't work. It's a possessive pronoun; skip the apostrophe)
You have lost your mind?

Remember this rule. It will be helpful (and referred to) in future posts.


  1. I don't usually make this mistake but I don't know if I could have told you why. This is was a very helpful post! I am among the grammar-lazy so I appreciate the grammar-anal and all of their help. Thanks James.

  2. Very simply put. Nicely said. I only make this mistake if I am typing in a hurry, but then again there is a lot of things I accidentally write when typing in a hurry. Thanks for this post.

  3. nice little lesson :-)

    lala Johnson.