Should you use apostrophes to make personal pronouns possessive?

Should you use apostrophes to make personal pronouns possessive? 

At some point in our lives, I'm sure that we've all paused while writing hers, theirs, or its and, with our hand hovering over the s, wondered whether or not we should add an apostrophe.

The short answer is that you should never add an apostrophe to these possessive words. Would you like to know the long answer? Great! Let's explore the issues involved so that you can write more confidently. Here we go!

Apostrophes & Possession

It's true that one the the main jobs of apostrophes is to show possession. We add them to nouns as well as indefinite pronouns in order to make the nouns and pronouns possessive.

Possessive Noun
Indefinite Pronoun
Possessive Indefinite Pronoun

However, there are some words that show possession all by themselves without the help of an apostrophe. I'm referring to possessive pronouns like hers, theirs, and its.

Personal Pronouns & Possessive Pronouns

While nouns and indefinite pronouns use apostrophes to become possessive, personal pronouns (me, you, he, she...) actually change into other words—possessive pronounsin order to become possessive. And possessive pronouns don't take apostrophes.

For example, we is a personal pronoun. Notice that we never say we's to show possession of the personal pronoun we. We change the word completely to the possessive pronoun our or ours.

Personal Pronouns
Possessive Pronouns
Possessive Pronouns
We own a cat.
This is we's cat. --> No
This cat is we's. --> No
We own a cat.
This is our cat. --> Yes
This cat is ours. --> Yes

It's easy to see that we don't add apostrophes to certain personal pronouns like we, but things can get tricky when the possessive version of the pronoun ends in s as it does in the words hers, theirs, and its. We see that s in a possessive word staring us in the face, and we feel like it needs an apostrophe.

Personal Pronouns
Possessive Pronouns
Possessive Pronouns
I found Mary's cat. I will call her.
This is her's cat. --> No
This cat is her's. --> No
I found Mary's cat. I will call her.
This is her cat. --> Yes
This cat is hers. --> Yes

However, possessive pronouns already show possession, so adding an apostrophe would be unnecessary (and wrong). It would be sort of like buying and installing a webcam for your computer that already has a built-in camera.

Never add apostrophes to possessive pronouns.

These words already show possession, so they don't need apostrophes.

Here's a chart showing you the possessive versions of the personal pronouns. Note that none of them contains an apostrophe.

Personal Pronouns
Possessive Pronouns
These words modify nouns, so you might also hear them called possessive adjectives.
Absolute Possessive Pronouns
These words stand alone as pronouns.
This is my cat.
This cat is mine.
This is your cat.
This cat is yours.
This is his cat.
This cat is his.
This is her cat.
This cat is hers.
The dog wagged its tail.
It's possible but very rare to have its acting as an absolute possessive pronoun.
See this discussion for more.
This is our cat.
This cat is ours.
This is their cat.
This cat is theirs.
This is whose cat?
This cat is whose?

* Who isn't a personal pronoun. It's an interrogative pronoun and a relative pronoun, but I included it since many people are confused about the possessive word whose.

Would you like to download this chart? It's easier to print out and stare at that way. :) Just click here to get the PDF file

It's & Who's

These two words are probably the most troublesome. It's true that it's and who's are words with apostrophes, but these words don't show possession. It's is a contraction for the words it is. Who's is a contraction for the words who is or who has.

It's raining! (It is raining!) Yes

The dog ate its food. (its = possessive) Yes

The dog ate it's food. (The dog ate it is food.) No

Who's at the door? (Who is at the door?) Yes

Whose coat is this? (whose = possessive) Yes

Who's coat is this? (Who is rain coat is this?) No

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