Correct Apostrophe Use in Writing Memoirs

blog10As you write your memoirs, you may have questions about grammar and sentence construction. I’m a writer and editor by profession, and I teach an adult education writing class. On this blog I’ll try to help you with the most common writing difficulties. One mistake I see over and over is apostrophe misuse, particularly with regard to pronouns.

The confusion stems from our use of apostrophes to show possession as in, “John’s autobiography is very interesting.??? But notice what happens when we replace “John??? with a pronoun: “His autobiography is very interesting.??? The apostrophe disappears, because possessive pronouns like “his??? do not use apostrophes. “It,??? “your??? and “whose” are pronouns, too, so as possessives—indicating belonging to someone or something— they need no apostrophe: “The cat licked its paws???; “I enjoyed reading your memoirs; Whose book is this????

However, contractions also take apostrophes: “Sue’s [Sue has] finished writing her memoirs.??? When we replace “Sue??? with a pronoun, this time the apostrophe remains: “She’s [She has] finished writing her memoirs.??? All contractions with pronouns work the same way: “It’s [It has] been a nice day???; “You’re [You are] doing a great job???; Who’s [Who is] at the door?” So when you want to use a confusing pronoun—its/it’s; your/yours/you’re; their/theirs/they’re; whose/who’s—determine whether to apply the apostrophe form by testing whether you can replace the word with two words meaning the same thing.

Photo: © Alexandr Tkachuk