When asked what the most common English usage error is, I don’t have to think hard. The “winning” mistake is the misuse of the apostrophe, especially with its/it’s.
First, let’s get rid of a myth: There is no such thing as its’. Why? Because its’ would be meaningless. If its’ existed, it would be indicating plural possession. First of all, it is always singular. Secondly, its without an apostrophe is the possessive form.
Example: The dog hurt its paw.
The word it’s is a contraction for it is.
Example: It’s a shame that the dog hurt its paw.
Now, we can look at more apostrophe rules.
Rule: To show possession by one person, use an apostrophe and then the s.
girl’s hat (one girl who owns a hat)
girl’s hats (one girl who owns more than one hat)
woman’s dress (one woman who owns a dress)
woman’s dresses (one woman with more than one dress)
Rule: To show plural possession, make the noun plural first; then use the apostrophe.
The girls’ hats flew off in the wind. (more than one girl, each with a hat)
The women’s dresses matched their shoes. (more than one woman, each with matching shoes)
Notice that women’s was not an exception. The noun was made plural first and then the apostrophe was used. The only difference is that the plural of woman doesn’t have an s so we must add it at the end.
one boy’s book, two boys’ books
one man’s jacket, two men’s jackets
one lass’s hat, two lasses’ hats
Posted on Wednesday, November 1st, 2006, at 9:09 pm