Apostrophe, Hyphen, and Dash Help (page 2)
Apostrophes are used to create contractions, to make nouns possessive, and, in rare instances, to make a noun plural.
Contract (con-TRACT) means to squeeze together or shorten. In informal writing, we shorten two words into one, using an apostrophe to create a contraction. For instance, has and not would become hasn't. The following table shows some other common contractions.
Note that contractions are not used in formal writing. Use formal writing mainly for academic or business communications; use informal, or more casual, writing for reader-friendly messages.
Possessives are nouns that show ownership. To make a singular noun possessive, add -'s. Be careful not to confuse the plural form of a noun with the possessive.
- The writer of the news stories won a Pulitzer.
- The news story's writer won a Pulitzer.
The first sentence tells us that the writer of multiple stories won a Pulitzer. The second sentence tells us the writer of one story won a Pulitzer.
To form the possessive of the plural noun stories, add an apostrophe after the final -s.
The news stories' writer won a Pulitzer.
This sentence also tells us that the writer of multiple stories won a Pulitzer. The -s' rule applies only to plural nouns ending with an -s. For example, the possessive of the plural noun children, which does not end in -s, would be children's.
To form the possessive of a singular noun ending with -s, do one of two things: add -'s or just add an apostrophe after the -s.
Kara Reynolds's picture was in the newspaper this morning.
Kara Reynolds' picture was in the newspaper this morning.
Plurals with Apostrophe + s
There are a few occasions when -'s is required to make a noun plural.
Add -'s to form the plural of abbreviations that contain more than one period, such as Ph.D. or M.D.
M.D.'s and Ph.D.'s are doctorate degrees in medicine and philosophy.
Add -'s to form the plural of words, letters, and numbers that we do not commonly see in the plural form.
How many um's and uh's did you count in the run-through of my speech?
I got four A's and two B's on my report card.
Please write your 5's and 8's more clearly on tests.
Hyphens and Dashes
Although they look similar, hyphens and dashes perform two completely different jobs; hyphens divide and join, while em-dashes interrupt and emphasize. Knowing the difference will help you better identify them in your reading and correctly utilize them in your writing.
Hyphens divide words at the ends of lines, separate numbers, join compound words, and attach prefixes and suffixes.
To divide a word at the end of a line of typed text, place a hyphen at a syllable break in the word.
Tip: Syllables are the individual spoken units of a word, consisting of a vowel or a vowel-consonant combination. To find syllable breaks in a word, simply tap your finger or clap your hand for each spoken unit. The word syllable, for instance, has three separate audible units: syl, a, and ble. To write the syllables, divide the correctly-spelled word into the units you hear. (Note that not all dictionaries agree on the breakdown of all word units.)
Hyphens are used to join many prefixes, such as great-, all-, half-, ex-, self-, and the suffix -elect, to existing words in order to create a new word:
Hyphens are also used to turn phrases into a single unit,
- sister-in-law jack-in-the-box forget-me-not
to separate word units when spelling out the numbers 21 to 99 or fractions,
- thirty-six ninety-nine six-eighths one-fourth
and in scores and dates.
- The Red Sox beat the White Sox 10–3 on Friday. The article from the 08-23-06 Chicago Sun edition was incorrect.
Hyphens are useful to avoid confusion.
Mr. Johnson tried to recollect how he planned to re-collect the student's papers this time to avoid unnecessary chaos.
They are also helpful when spelling certain compound words that would look awkward.
The button's shell-like appearance made it intriguing.
Without the hyphen, shell-like would become shelllike, with three l 's crashing together!
Tip: Remember, not all prefixes require a hyphen. Usually, a hyphen is used when a letter becomes doubled or tripled, or if the added prefix creates a spelling similar to that of another word. Always check a dictionary if you are not sure.
Dashes are used to indicate incidental thoughts in writing.
Louis's favorite color is—let me guess—pink!
Like a colon, but less formal, an em-dash can be used to set off a short series of phrases or words in a sentence.
I bought what I needed—lipstick, blush, eye shadow, liner pencils, and foundation—at the department store cosmetic counter.
Tip: When using dashes, make sure that the parts of the sentence before and after them would make sense if you were to remove the em-dashes and the words they set off.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Apostrophe, Hyphen, and Dash Practice.
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