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Possessives can confuse anybody

November 03, 2006

Which sentence is correct?

1. The tree has lost its leaves.

2. The tree has lost it's leaves.

3. The tree has lost its' leaves.

Typically, an apostrophe indicates possession - something belonging to someone or something.

What belongs to something else in this sentence? Leaves.

To what do the leaves belong? The tree. So, it is tempting to think that an apostrophe is needed.

If you were considering sentence two or three as the correct choice, that's understandable, but wrong.

Sentence No. 1 is correct in this case.

No apostrophe is used in the possessive form of "its." The apostrophe is used in the contraction for it is, it's.

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Its' is not a word.

To check whether to use "its" or "it's," read the sentence, substituting the words "it is."

You wouldn't say, "The tree has lost it is leaves," so you know the contraction "it's" shouldn't be used in this case.

You could say, "It's a beautiful day," or, substituting words for the contraction, "It is a beautiful day."

We've just started a unit on possessive words, pronouns and quotations in English class. Some of the things we're learning are a little tricky and easy to forget. (The its/it's mix-up is common even in the corporate world, so it's no wonder that it is confusing for children.)

How would you do with these sentences? Which one is correct:

1. Push your chair under the table.

2. Push you're chair under the table.

The first "your" shows possession. The second "you're" is a contraction. Recognizing that the second is a contraction is key to knowing how to use it in a sentence. A contraction is formed when two small words are joined together into one word. The apostrophe indicates where a letter or letters have been dropped. You're equals "you are."

If you substitute the two words for the contraction, you can test whether the sentence is correct. You wouldn't say, "Push you are chair under the table," so sentence No. 1 is correct.

So, that's pretty easy, eh? With a little thought, possessive words can be used correctly.

If your child seems to need a little extra help with this concept, give him a fun challenge. Read an Aesop's fable aloud and ask him to clap each time he hears a possessive word. See how many you can find in "The Lion and the Mouse":

Once when a lion was asleep, a little mouse began running up and down upon him. This soon awakened the great beast, and suddenly the lion's huge paw trapped the mouse, and the lion's large jaws opened to swallow him.

"Oh, I beg the king's pardon," cried the little mouse. "Forgive me this time, and I shall never forget it. Who knows but what I may be able to do you a good turn one of these days?"

The lion's sides shook with laughter, and he lifted his paw and let him go.

Some time later, the lion was caught in a hunter's trap. Desiring to carry him alive to the duke's castle, they tied him to a tree while they went in search of a farmer's cart with which to carry him.

Just then the lion's keen ears heard the patter of the mouse's little feet. Seeing the sad state of his friend, the mouse soon gnawed away the hunters' rope and freed the king of beasts.

"Was I not right?" said the little mouse. "Little friends may prove to be great friends."

There are 11 possessive words. See whether you and your children can find them all.

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