Quick tips for grammar: possessive apostrophes

The 2014 National Curriculum asks that children learn to use apostrophes for singular possession from Y2 onward and apostrophes for plural possession from Y3 onward. Bearing in mind that apostrophes for contraction are also expected from Y2 onward, and that errors with apostrophes are common-place in the ‘real world’, it is little wonder that children find possessive apostrophes difficult to master. The introduction to Appendix 2 of the 2014 National Curriculum stipulates where content should be introduced but also that it may take considerable time to be embed; nowhere is this more apparent, than with the teaching of possessive apostrophes.


The bone belonging to the dog.
Understanding when an apostrophe for possession is necessary, requires children to understand the notion of possession or ownership. A first step then in understanding possessive apostrophes means that children must be able to identify ‘to whom the object in a sentence belongs’. Provide lots of sentences (with single actors), and ask children to identify to whom the object belongs. e.g.:

The dog’s bone…the girl’s ball…the boy’s trainers…the man’s car…the woman’s house…

Plural or possessive?
One of the problems with possessive apostrophes is the confusion with the use of ‘s’ for plural nouns. Upon the introduction of apostrophe for possession, many children then proceed to use apostrophes whenever adding an ‘s’. Testing for ownership (see the dog belonging to the bone) is an effective check for children to use when proof-reading their own work for errors in punctuation (including the use of apostrophes).

Regularly provide sentences on the interactive whiteboard that ask children to decide whether they need an apostrophe or not. Use punctuation fans for children to indicate whether an apostrophe is required, and encourage them to articulate to whom an object belongs. See our Resources page for our downloadable punctuation fans.

Sort it out!

Provide children with a text where all the s’s have apostrophes. Ask the children to proof-read and edit so that apostrophes are used correctly.  They could tabulate their answers under headings e.g. apostrophe ‘s’ for possession, ‘s’ for pluralisation.

Create a checklist

If children can articulate the rules for apostrophes, then they should be able to use them successfully in their own writing. Work together to create a class checklist for apostrophes and use this as a set of success criteria whenever proof-reading their own writing.

Just when you thought you’d got apostrophe for possession all stitched up along comes ‘it’s’ (the contracted form of it it) and ‘its’ (the possessive pronoun). Arghhhhh! As is so often the case, if you can articulate why and how the apostrophe has been used it all makes sense – it’s is short for it is! But it’s/its continues to be a point of frustration for many children for many years.  so, how to help them?

Create a classroom checklist

Provide examples on the walls

Use mneumonics – it’s is short for it is

Provide plentiful opportunities to practice…

Get physical

Create gestures for apostrophes for omission such as making an ‘o’ with your thumb and finger and a ‘p’ for possession.

If you liked this article, you may also like:

Quick tips for grammar: capital letters and full-stops

Quick tips for grammar: inverted commas

Rachel Clarke: Director – Primary English Education

All content on the Primary English website is owned by Rachel Clarke and is protected by copyright.

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