Our English spelling system is so confusing! Rules are hard to come by, and even if one works in most situations, there are always exceptions you have to remember.
Here is a rule that always works, with no exceptions! And it will take care of three different common errors all in one fell swoop. Three for the price of one — now that’s a bargain worth remembering!
This is the rule: There is never an apostrophe in any of the possessive pronouns.
What are the possessive pronouns, you ask? They are listed in the little box above, but in case you can’t read them, here they are again: her, his, your, their, our, its, my.
Now, I’m sure you’re never tempted to put an apostrophe in his, even though the word ends in -s. Its, however, is a different story because not only does it end in -s, there is also a word spelled it’s.
And it gets worse. Your doesn’t end in -s, but what about the word you’re? And their doesn’t end in -s either, but what about the word they’re?*
All three of these confusing sets of words can be explained the same way — and hopefully remembered the same way. If you read my earlier post on apostrophes, you’ll remember that there are two absolutely different uses of that punctuation mark: to show possession and to show contraction.
The rule above takes care of the apostrophe for possession: There is never an apostrophe in any of the possessive pronouns.
So the apostrophe in words like it’s, you’re, and they’re must be the second use: to show contraction. And that can be tested out in the following sample sentences.
It’s (it is) going to be a great day!
If you’re (you are) planning to go on the field trip, you need to let Mr. Smith know.
They’re (they are) right on schedule to finish the project by the deadline.
So here is the easy solution to remember: If you want to say it is, you are, or they are, use the pronoun with the apostrophe. If you don’t, then use the other form without the apostrophe.
Mother’s garden was known for its brilliant colors in the fall.
I can tell that your interests lie elsewhere.
Their flight was cancelled due to the snowstorm.
Voila! Three for the price of one! And that’s a real bargain in our rule-confused English spelling system.
*Unfortunately, there’s also a third form (there) for this word that doesn’t fit the pattern. But it’s easily disposed of. Use there any place where you don’t want a possessive (their) or a contraction (they’re).
There were many reasons for the delay in shipment.
I won’t go there unless I have to.
They’re (contraction) going to arrive there before their (possessive) luggage does.