Page 2 Language Study Guide for the TABE


The apostrophe (’) is generally used in two cases: to show possession and to create a contraction.

This is John’s book.
John can’t find his book.

In the first sentence, the apostrophe shows that the book belongs to John. In the second sentence, the apostrophe shortens the words can not into can’t.

For a singular noun, simply adding an apostrophe + “s” will make the word possessive.

*That kid’s shoe is red.”

For a plural nouns ending in “s”, the apostrophe will go after the “s”.

“Those kids’ shoes are red.”

For plural nouns not ending in “s”, you should follow the same rule as with singular nouns and simple add an apostrophe + “s”.

The men’s camping trip is next weekend.

For singular nouns ending in “s”, add the apostrophe + “s” in most cases, especially where the extra syllable of “es” is pronounced.

“It was Thomas’s bike.”
“The Jones’s house is up the street.”


A semicolon (;) should be used to separate two independent clauses that are closely related in subject. Never use a semicolon with a conjunction (and, but, or, etc.).

The eagle soared overhead; his wingspan was magnificent to behold.

A colon (:) can be used a couple of different ways. Using a colon before a list of items basically means that examples will follow.

On the first day of school, you are required to bring several items: a pencil, a ruler, a calculator, and an eraser.

A colon can also be used to separate two independent clauses. Unlike the semicolon, you can only use a colon to separate these clauses if the second one explains, or expounds, upon the first.

Justice had been served: the cheating boy was expelled.


Hyphens (-) are used to link words together in a sentence and to show the reader that the words are closely related to each other. They are also added for clarity when the words would cause confusion without a hyphen. Never add spaces around a hyphen.

The low-income neighborhood was next door to the business park.
(This is correct because the words “low” and “income” are linked in this sentence.)

The nurse lost the form so he had to get a new one and re-sign.
(This is correct because without the hyphen, the word “resign” would cause confusion. Is the nurse signing the form again, or is he leaving his job?)

I love the high - end stores downtown.
(This is incorrect because you should never add spaces around a hyphen.

There are many special rules for hyphens and there are countless lists available online. Study a few of them to become familiar with the lesser-known rules. When in doubt, look it up!


Parentheses [ ( ) ] are used to enclose words that are considered “extra” information. They may clarify what was already said, or they may just be added as another thought. Either way, if the words are inside parentheses it means they are considered less important than the other phrases they accompany.

I need to walk my dog (he’s very energetic), but I am too tired from work.

In this sentence, the phrase in the parentheses gives extra information on the topic, but it’s not as important as the other phrases.

The words inside the parentheses are not included in the subject. Make sure that your verb-tense agreement is based on the subject outside of the parentheses.

Sarah (along with the other students) was excited for prom. (correct)
Sarah (along with the other students) were excited for prom. (incorrect)

Remember that when using parentheses, the end sentence mark should go on the inside if a complete statement was made. The words inside the parentheses are not a complete thought, then the end mark should go on the outside of the parentheses.

The dogs were very hungry. (They were thirsty, too.)
The dogs were very hungry (and thirsty).

Quotation marks

Use quotation marks (“ ”) to state exactly what someone said. If you are summarizing what the person said, do not use quotations.

“I’m very impressed with the new teacher,” said the principal. (correct)
The principal “likes the new teacher.” (incorrect)

Quotation marks can also be used around unusual words or words being used in an unusual way.

My daughter often waits too long to eat and becomes “hangry,” a term meaning you are so hungry you get angry.
After my son “cleaned” his room, I still had to make the bed and vacuum.

When using quotation marks, periods (.) and commas (,) should always go on the inside.

“I hate broccoli,” the child said to his mother.

Exclamation and question marks go on the inside of the quotation marks if they are part of the sentence being quoted.

“Can I go to the circus?”, asked Johnny.
What’s a “circus”?
I finally finished “Moby Dick”!