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Apostrophes are used to indicate either possession or the intentional absence of letters. They are not used to indicate plurality under any circumstances. Contractions formed with apostrophes are often the focus of spelling errors, because many contractions have confusing homophones.
Apostrophes should be simple. They're used to indicate possession and contraction. Easy. However some people use them in all sorts of weird situations, chiefly to wrongly indicate plurality. Apostrophes are never to be used in cases like the 1960's, because 1960 doesn't possess the years 1961-1969. It's just 1960s.

Possession

The most common use of an apostrophe is probably to indicate possession. For example:

  • The Doctor's TARDIS materialised
  • Martha's love for the Tenth Doctor was genuine.

In both examples the apostrophe and the letter S signify possession of the noun that follows. Since the Doctor owns his TARDIS, it is the Doctor's TARDIS.

If the possessor's name ends in an S or the sound of the letter S, X or Z, the possessive form of their name ends on an apostrophe. For example:

  • The TARDIS' defences rather than the TARDIS's defences
  • Stevens' will rather than Stevens's will
  • Drax' ambition rather than Drax's ambition
  • The fez' destruction rather than the fez's destruction

Contraction

An apostrophe is also used to indicate the joining of two words into a contracted single word. Positive contractions are slightly more straightforward than negative ones. In positive contractions, the apostrophe replaces letters and spaces that come sequentially in the two-word original.

For instance:

  • They're is a contraction of they are.
  • We're is a contraction of we are.
  • You're is a contraction of you are.

In all these cases the apostrophe stands for the separating space, plus the "a" in "are".

However, with negative contractions, the apostrophe never takes the place of the space at all. Isn't is a contraction of is not, with the apostrophe only contracting the letter O.

This is also seen in: shouldn't, couldn't, wouldn't and needn't — contractions of should not, could not, would not and need not.

Misspellings of contractions

Contractions are often confused with words that sound like them, like:

  • there, their and they're.
  • we're, were and where
  • you're and your

The following sections define each of the homophones so that you can understand precisely what they mean.

They're, their and there
  • There is a location: "He aimed the sonic screwdriver over there."
  • They're is a contraction of "they are".
  • Their is a possessive. It's their hair, their food, their drinks, their army.
We're, were and where
  • We're is a contraction of "we are".
  • Were is the past tense of "are".
  • Where is a location. "Where are we? They are there by the TARDIS. Here we have a dead Dalek."
Your and You're
  • You're is a contraction of "you are"..
  • Your is a possessive that means something belongs or is connected to you.

Examples of usage

If you mean to use a contraction, it's very important that you include the apostrophe. Failing to spell and punctuate the contraction properly can yield highly confusing results.

Consider the following example:

"We're never going to make it in time!"

This is a full and proper sentence, with a subject (We) and a verb (are). If the apostrophe is omitted, the sentence would become a fragment, reading:

"Were never going to make it in time!"

This means nothing, because now the sentence begins with the simple past tense of the verb "to be" and has no subject.

Another common error results from confusion between "you're", which means "you are", and "your", which is a possessive pronoun.

A properly constructed sentence would be, "You're going to want to question me." Conversely, it would be improper to write, "Your going to want to question me." This second sentence has no subject, because "your" is an adjective, not a noun.

Note, too, that the reverse is also true. "Your leaders will want to question me," is a completely proper sentence, because "your" is an adjective modifying the subject of the sentence, "leaders". Using the similar-sounding contraction makes a nonsense of the sentence. "You're leaders will want to question me," means nothing, because it introduces a second, unrelated verb ("are") into the sentence.

Story titles with an apostrophe

A few story titles use an apostrophe in their story titles.

  • The Daleks' Master Plan. The presence of the apostrophe after the S means the Master Plan is that of several Daleks.
  • Warriors' Gate, like the above, this means the Gate (in the story called the Gateway), is possessed by more than one Warrior.
  • The King's Demons, the apostrophe in this title functions in the same way as the above stories, but there is only one King, who has several demons.
  • Father's Day. Because the holiday is named from the perspective of an individual celebrant, "father" is singular. Most people have only one father. It has also simply become the worldwide naming convention to indicate a singular father by the apostrophe. See Wikipedia:Father's Day for more information.
  • The Idiot's Lantern, like The King's Demons this has the same meaning of belonging, the singular "idiot" owns the lantern.
  • Journey's End, in which the singular "journey" has reached its conclusion.
  • Amy's Choice, in this case the "choice" is that of Amy, a singular proper noun.
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