When to use an apostrophe

By eContent Pro on Jan 26, 2017

When to Use an Apostrophe

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark that serves a variety of purposes. We have taken a look at each of the uses for apostrophes below.

Use an Apostrophe to Show Possession

To show the possession of a singular noun, simply add an apostrophe + s

Example: the cat’s scratching post

To show the possession of nouns that end in s, follow the rules below

  • Rule 1: If word is plural, attach an apostrophe.
  • Example: the cats’ carriers
  • In this example, we are talking about different carriers for multiple cats.
  • Rule 2: If word is singular, most sources recommend adding ‘s
  • Example: the class’s project

In this example, we are discussing the project of one class.

If we were talking about multiple classes, our sentence would read: the classes’ project.

To show the possessive form of regular nouns that become plural by adding s or es, you will need to add an apostrophe after the final s in the word

Example: the fishes’ pond.

To create the possessive form of irregular nouns that become plural by changing spelling, the rule for adding an apostrophe will vary. We recommend that you write out the entire irregular plural noun before adding any punctuation

  1. Example: the books of the children
  2. Incorrect: the childrens’ books Correct: the children’s books
  3. In this example, the plural form of the word child does not have an s, so we will need to add an apostrophe + s to properly show that the children own the books.
  4. Example: the moose’s tracks
  5. Again, the plural form of moose is spelled the same, so we will need to add an apostrophe + s to show that the tracks came from the moose.

To show the possession of singular compound nouns, add an apostrophe + s at the end of the word

Example: This is my sister-in-law’s car.

To show the possession of a plural compound noun, first you will need to create the plural version of the noun. You will then add an apostrophe + s to the end of the noun

Example: We are going to my brothers-in-law’s house for the holidays.

To show the possessive plurals of proper names ending in s, such as Hastings and Jones

To show that a family named Hastings or Jones own something, such as a car or house, you will first need to make the name plural by adding an es to the end of the name. You cannot just add an apostrophe, as that will refer to a family named “Hasting” or “Jone.” Once you have made the name plural, you will be able to add an apostrophe to show the proper possession.

Incorrect: The Hastings’ new car. Correct: The Hastinges’ new car.

Incorrect: The Jones’ new house. Correct: The Joneses’ new house.

If two people possess the same item, put the apostrophe + s after the second name only. However, if one of the joint owners is written as a pronoun, you will need to use the possessive form for both

Incorrect: Laura and my home Incorrect: Mine and Laura's home

Correct: Laura's and my home Correct: Laura and Steve’s home.

Note: As our examples above demonstrate, when one of the co-owners is written as a pronoun, you will need to use possessive adjectives (my, your, her, our, their). You will want to avoid possessive pronouns (mine, yours, hers, ours, theirs) in such situations.

In cases of separate rather than joint possession, use the possessive form for both. You will want to ensure that you are using the plural form of the item that is possessed to show the separate possession

Example: We will be visiting Steve’s and Sarah’s homes on our road trip.

Amounts of time or money are sometimes used as possessive adjectives that require apostrophes.

Example: The military provides two weeks’ leave to soldiers. Example: That’s my two cents’ worth.

Beware of nouns ending in y. Do not show possession by changing the y to ies

Correct: the company's policy Incorrect: the companies policy

To show possession when a noun ending in y becomes plural, write ies'. Do not write y's

Correct: three companies' policies Incorrect: three company's policies

Exception: Names and other proper nouns ending in y become plural simply by adding an s. They do not form their plurals with an apostrophe, or by changing the y to ies.

Correct: The Westerlys are coming to dinner. Incorrect: The Westerly’s are coming over.

Correct: The Westerlys' dog had puppies. Incorrect: The Westerlies’ dog had puppies.

Use an Apostrophe to Show Contractions

You will need to use an apostrophe with contractions, or shortened forms of writing words. The apostrophe is placed where a letter or letters have been removed. Example: cannot -> can’t

Use an Apostrophe to Make Words Plural

There are various approaches to creating the plural form of many letters that appear on their own, as well as numerals. You can also use an apostrophe to create plural forms of some words. We have provided examples and further instruction on these items below.

Apostrophes After Letters

Many style guides recommend placing an apostrophe after single letters for the sake of clarity.

Example: He received all A’s on his report card. Example: Mind your p’s and q’s.

When you are writing groups of two or more capital letters, apostrophes are not as necessary to include.

Example: That child has learned his ABCs.

Apostrophes After Numerals

For clarity, apostrophes can be used with single digit numbers but are not necessary. We recommend using your judgement when determining whether you should include an apostrophe.

Example: I purchased the tickets in sets of 2s. Example: I purchased the tickets in sets of 2’s.

  • Both of these examples are correct.
  • When you are writing a double or triple digit number, as well as anything higher than triple digits, many style guides do not recommend the use of an apostrophe.
  • Example: The temperature will be in the low 30s. Example:the 1990s Example: the '90s

Apostrophes for Plural Words

When you are forming a plural of a word that is not normally a noun, some style guides will recommend that you add an apostrophe for clarity.

Example: Here are some do's and don'ts.

Things to Keep in Mind When Using Apostrophes

Beware of false possessives, which often occur with nouns ending in s. Don't add apostrophes to noun-derived adjectives ending in s.

Incorrect: We enjoyed the New Orleans' cuisine. Correct: We enjoyed the New Orleans cuisine.

In this example, the incorrect sentence does not make sense unless New Orleans is being used as an adjective to describe cuisine. In English, nouns frequently become adjectives. Adjectives rarely if ever take apostrophes.

Incorrect: He's a United States' citizen. Correct: He's a United States citizen.

In this example, United States is an adjective that modifies citizen and as such should not receive an apostrophe.

Rules for Using Apostrophes

  • Do not use an apostrophe + s to make a regular noun plural
  • Never use an apostrophe to make a name plural
  • The personal pronouns hers, ours, yours, theirs, its, whose, and the pronoun oneself never take an apostrophe.
  • When an apostrophe comes before a word or number, be sure that it's truly an apostrophe (’) rather than a single quotation mark (‘). Some computers will change an apostrophe to a single quotation mark in this case.

Final Thoughts on Using Apostrophes

Apostrophes are a punctuation mark that can be used in a variety of ways. This also means that they have multiple rules that must be followed. If you are unsure of yourself when using apostrophes, let us help you.

Our professionally trained copy editing team will review your document and ensure that you have used apostrophes correctly, as well as look at many other grammar problems.

Learn more about our copy editing and proofreading services.

Upload Your Document Now

How to Use Apostrophes

The apostrophe may be the most abused punctuation mark in the English language. A quick glance at street signs, advertisements, and store marquees will demonstrate that almost no one seems to know how to use this mark properly.

The apostrophe has two, and only two, uses: to show possession and to indicate the omission of letters or numbers. To further illustrate this point, let us examine some of the rules that dictate when apostrophes should be used and where they should be placed in a word.

Common rules

Possessive common nouns are common nouns or pronouns that own other nouns. Apostrophes are used to indicate this possession in the following ways:

  • If the noun does not end in -s (in most cases this means it is singular), add -'s.

Here are two examples:

The bike's handlebars were bent in the crash. The boy's sister traveled by bus to meet us.

  • If the noun is singular and ends in -s, add -'s, as in the following examples:
See also:  How to use median averaging to get better photos

My boss's job at the bank was eliminated due to budget cuts. The class's average grade was impressive.

  • If the noun is plural and ends in -s, add only an apostrophe.

The clowns' shoes protruded from the windows of the Volkswagen.Both bananas' peels had turned brown.

  • If the noun is plural and does not end in -s, add -'s.

The children's play received a standing ovation.The geese's precise formation in the sky impressed the pedestrians.

Some words or phrases are awkward to pronounce when the apostrophe is added (“geese's precise formation,” for example). An author always has the option of rewriting the sentence to avoid this problem (“The precise formation of the geese…”).

  • If multiple nouns jointly own another noun, use an apostrophe only on the final noun listed. In this sentence, one car belongs to both the man and the woman.

The man and woman's car was badly damaged.

  • If multiple nouns each possess another noun individually, each noun should have an apostrophe. In this sentence, there are two separate motivations, each owned by a different person. 

The student's and the teacher's motivations were in conflict.

  • If a compound noun owns another noun, add the apostrophe only to the last element.

My sister-in-law's love of shopping knows no limits. The president-elect's agenda proposed no major policy changes.

  • If an indefinite pronoun (a noun that refers to no specific person or thing) owns a noun, add -'s.

Someone's car is parked in the loading zone.Does anybody's key fit this lock?

Proper nouns and apostrophes

Possessive proper nouns are the capitalized names of specific persons, places, or things. We recommend following the same rules for apostrophe use on proper nouns as you would on common nouns. For example:

  • If the name does not end in -s, add -'s.

Sally's hair was blond and curly.The Boston Globe's editorial page is popular.

  • If the name ends in -s and the pronunciation is not terribly awkward, add -'s.

Robert Burns's poetry is difficult to understand.Charles Dickens's novels contain an astonishing number of characters.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, of course. One common deviation occurs when only an apostrophe is added to proper nouns that end in -s: Jesus, Moses, and Greek names of more than one syllable ending in -es.

In Sunday school, we studied Jesus' nativity and Moses' parting of the Red Sea.Sophocles' plays make one wonder what kind of relationship he had with his parents.

Contractions should not confuse ESL writers

Contractions are shortened versions of words or phrases typically limited to casual speech or writing. Avoid the use of contractions in formal and professional writing. When writing a contraction, remember that an apostrophe marks the place where letters have been omitted. For example:

Don't forget to vote! (Don't is a contraction of do not; the o in not has been omitted.)I'm so sick of this cold weather. (I'm is a contraction of I am; the a in am has been omitted.)

An apostrophe is also used to indicate the omission of the first two digits of a year or years.

The members of the class of '98 have all gone on to be successful.The pre-Depression era of the '20s was a time of social change and material excess.

When NOT to use an apostrophe

The most common apostrophe error is the addition of an apostrophe where one is not needed. We have found apostrophes in some pretty strange places. The following are some of the most frequently made errors:

  • Do not use an apostrophe in the possessive pronouns whose, ours, yours, his, hers, its, or theirs.
  • Do not use an apostrophe in nouns that are plural but not possessive, such as CDs, 1000s, or 1960s.
  • Do not use an apostrophe in verbs. Apostrophes sometimes show up in verbs that end in -s, such as marks, sees, or finds.

Some apostrophe mistakes involve the confusion of two words that sound the same but have different meanings.

  • Confusion of its and it's. Its is a possessive pronoun, while it's is a contraction of it is.

The dog pulled on its leash.I just realized it's time to go!

  • Confusion of your and you're. Your is a possessive pronoun, while you're is a contraction of you are.

Don't forget your umbrella.You're the worst dancer I've ever seen.

  • Confusion of whose and who's. Whose is a possessive pronoun, while who's is a contraction of who is.

Whose turn is it to take out the trash?I wonder who's going to play Hamlet.

When in doubt over whether to use an apostrophe, think about the word's (or words') meaning. Does this noun own something? Are two separate words being combined into one contraction?

If you're in the process of learning English, make sure your apostrophes—and other punctuation marks—are in the right place with Scribendi's English editing services.

When to Use an Apostrophe

How to use the apostrophe

When to Use an Apostrophe

By Marina Pantcheva

  • The apostrophe has two functions:  it marks possession, and it is used in contractions to indicate the place where the letters have been omitted.
  • Possession
    In singular, possession is marked by ’s, written immediately after the possessor.
  • (1)    John’s car
    (2)    the boy’s toy
  • Important: there is no apostrophe before the possessive –s with pronouns.
  • (1)    its, hers, yours, ours
  • If the possessor is expressed by more than one word, ’s comes after the last word.

(3)    my late brother’s wife
(4)    Mr.

Johnsen’s house
(5)    Charlie and Lola’s new room. (the room belongs to both Charlie and Lola)

Use ’s with singular possessors that end in –s or –z.

(6)    Charles’s books
(7)    Sanchez’s horse

Plural possessors that end in –s  take only the apostrophe. Plural possessors that end in some other letter take ’s.

(8)    the boys’ toy
(9)    the Sanchezes’ horse
(10)  the children’s bikes

Importantly, it is the written letter that determines whether to place just an apostrophe or ’s after a plural. There are a few English nouns that end in the sound /s/ or /z/ but are written with a final –e: mice (mouse) dice (die), geese (goose). Such plural nouns take ‘s is the possessive form.

(11)  the geese’s feathers
(12)  mice’s teeth

In other words, the possessive –s is required after a singular word ending in -s but not after a plural word ending in –s.

Singular Plural
  ending in –s, –z ’s
  not ending in –s, –z ’s ’s

Contraction
The apostrophe is used with contractions and is placed at the spot of the omitted letter(s). Words that often are written in contracted form are: be, have (-’ve), has (-’s), had (-’d), will (-’ll), would (-’d), and the negative particle not (n’t). For a full list of the standard contractions, follow this link. Some common contractions are shown below.

(13)  I am = I’m
(14)  you are = you’re
(15)  he is = he’s
(16)  she is = she’s
(17)  it is = it’s
(18)  we are = we’re
(19)  they are = they’re
 
(20)  do not = don’t
(21)  does not = doesn’t
(22)  cannot = can’t (cannot is written as one word)
(23)  should not = shouldn’t
(24)  could not = couldn’t
(25)  shall not = shan’t
(26)  will not = won’t
 
(27)  I have = I’ve
(28)  I had, I would, and I should = I’d
(29)  I will and I shall = I’ll

Avoid the apostrophe to mark possession with pronouns

Apostrophe Rules

Apostrophes can be tricky. Sometimes they form possessives. Sometimes they form contractions. Can they ever make something plural?

Apostrophe Use: Contractions and Omissions

A contraction is a shortened form of a word (or group of words) that omits certain letters or sounds. In a contraction, an apostrophe represents missing letters. The most common contractions are made up of verbs, auxiliaries, or modals attached to other words: He would=He’d. I have=I’ve. They are=They’re. You cannot=You can’t.

Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing always looks great? Grammarly can save you from misspellings, grammatical and punctuation mistakes, and other writing issues on all your favorite websites.

Your writing, at its best.

Be the best writer in the office.

Get Grammarly

Some writers use less common contractions when they want to represent a particular style of speech. They might write somethin’ to represent the way people often don’t pronounce the final g of “something” in speech.

Occasionally, you might see e’er (instead of ever) in poetry. And, of course, in the American South, you will probably encounter y’all (you all).

Decade names are often contracted as well: the ’60s (the 1960s).

Contraction Uncontracted Examples
-n’t not Isn’t (is not), hasn’t (has not)
-‘re are They’re (they are), we’re (we are), you’re (you are)
-‘d had, would She’d (she had, she would), I’d (I had, I would)
-‘ll will We’ll (we will), you’ll (you will)
-‘s is He’s (he is), it’s (it is)
I’m I am
let’s let us
See also:  Casket or coffin?

Apostrophes

Rule 1a. Use the apostrophe to show possession. To show possession with a singular noun, add an apostrophe plus the letter s.

  • Examples: a woman's hat the boss's wife
  • Mrs. Chang's house

Rule 1b. Many common nouns end in the letter s (lens, cactus, bus, etc.). So do a lot of proper nouns (Mr. Jones, Texas, Christmas). There are conflicting policies and theories about how to show possession when writing such nouns. There is no right answer; the best advice is to choose a formula and stay consistent.

Rule 1c. Some writers and editors add only an apostrophe to all nouns ending in s. And some add an apostrophe + s to every proper noun, be it Hastings's or Jones's.

  1. One method, common in newspapers and magazines, is to add an apostrophe + s ('s) to common nouns ending in s, but only a stand-alone apostrophe to proper nouns ending in s.
  2. Examples: the class's hours Mr. Jones' golf clubs the canvas's size
  3. Texas' weather

Care must be taken to place the apostrophe outside the word in question. For instance, if talking about a pen belonging to Mr. Hastings, many people would wrongly write Mr. Hasting's pen (his name is not Mr. Hasting).

Correct: Mr. Hastings' pen

Another widely used technique is to write the word as we would speak it. For example, since most people saying “Mr. Hastings' pen” would not pronounce an added s, we would write Mr.

Hastings' pen with no added s. But most people would pronounce an added s in “Jones's,” so we'd write it as we say it: Mr. Jones's golf clubs.

This method explains the punctuation of for goodness' sake.

Rule 2a. Regular nouns are nouns that form their plurals by adding either the letter s or es (guy, guys; letter, letters; actress, actresses; etc.). To show plural possession, simply put an apostrophe after the s.

Correct: guys' night out (guy + s + apostrophe) Incorrect: guy's night out (implies only one guy)

Correct: two actresses' roles (actress + es + apostrophe)

Incorrect: two actress's roles

Rule 2b. Do not use an apostrophe + s to make a regular noun plural.

Incorrect: Apostrophe's are confusing. Correct: Apostrophes are confusing.

Incorrect: We've had many happy Christmas's.

Correct: We've had many happy Christmases.

  • In special cases, such as when forming a plural of a word that is not normally a noun, some writers add an apostrophe for clarity.
  • Example: Here are some do's and don'ts.

In that sentence, the verb do is used as a plural noun, and the apostrophe was added because the writer felt that dos was confusing. Not all writers agree; some see no problem with dos and don'ts.

However, with single lowercase letters, it is advisable to use apostrophes.

Example:

Apostrophe

Contractions (e.g., let’s, don’t, couldn’t, it’s, she’s) have a bad reputation. Many argue that they have no place at all in formal writing. You should, of course, observe your publisher’s or instructor’s requirements. An absolute avoidance of contractions, however, is likely to make your writing appear stilted and unwelcoming.

If you are unsure where to insert the apostrophe when forming a contraction, consult a good dictionary.

Avoid two of the most common contraction–apostrophe errors: the contraction of it is is it’s, and the contraction of let us is let’s; without the apostrophe, its is the possessive form of it, and lets is a form of the verb let, as in “to allow or permit.”

Examples

It’s often said that every dog has its day.

Let’s not forget that grandma lets the kids eat way too much junk food when they stay with her.

In informal writing, it is acceptable to indicate a year with only the last two digits preceded by an apostrophe (e.g., the class of ’85, pop music from the ’80s).

The apostrophe is seldom used to form a plural noun.

Correct

Since the 1980s, the Thomases, both of whom have multiple PhDs, have sold old books and magazines at the fair on Saturdays and Sundays.

Incorrect

Since the 1980’s, the Thomas’s, both of whom have multiple PhD’s, have sold old book’s and magazine’s at the fair on Saturday’s and Sunday’s.

The rare exception to the rule is when certain abbreviations, letters, or words are used as nouns, as in the following examples. Unless the apostrophe is needed to avoid misreading or confusion, omit it.

Examples

He received four A’s and two B’s.

We hired three M.D.’s and two D.O.’s.

Be sure to cross your t’s and dot your i’s.

Do we have more yes’s than no’s?

For this last example, the trend is to instead write yeses and noes.

The general rule is that the possessive of a singular noun is formed by adding an apostrophe and s, whether the singular noun ends in s or not.

Examples

  • the lawyer’s fee
  • the child’s toy
  • the girl’s parents
  • Xerox’s sales manager
  • Tom Jones’s first album
  • Jesus’s disciples
  • Aeschylus’s finest drama
  • JFK’s finest speech
  • anyone’s guess
  • a week’s vacation
  • Texas’s oil industry

The possessive of a plural noun is formed by adding only an apostrophe when the noun ends in s, and by adding both an apostrophe and s when it ends in a letter other than s.

Examples

  1. excessive lawyers’ fees
  2. children’s toys
  3. the twins’ parents
  4. the student teachers’ supervisor
  5. the Smiths’ vacation house
  6. the Joneses’ vacation house
  7. the boys’ baseball team
  8. the alumni’s fundraising
  9. three weeks’ vacation
  10. someone with twelve years’ experience

Use only an apostrophe for singular nouns that are in the form of a plural⁠—or have a final word in the form of a plural⁠—ending with an s.

Examples

  • Beverly Hills’ current mayor
  • the United States’ lingering debt problem
  • Cisco Systems’ CEO
  • the Beatles’ first album

Nouns that end in an s sound take only an apostrophe when they are followed by sake.

Examples

for goodness’ sake

for conscience’ sake

A proper noun that is already in possessive form is left as is.

Example

T.G.I. Friday’s menu was recently changed.

Awkward

Correct but awkward: Let’s meet at St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s Fifth Avenue entrance.

Better

Better: Let’s meet at the Fifth Avenue entrance for St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The apostrophe should never be separated from the word to which it attaches by adjacent punctuation.

Correct

The house on the left is the Smiths’, but the house at the end of the street is the Whites’.

Incorrect

The house on the left is the Smiths,’ but the house at the end of the street is the Whites.’

When to Use an Apostrophe in Your Writing – Professional Writing

Apostrophes are just one of the punctuation marks we use on a regular basis. However, are you sure that you’re using it correctly? Many people make the mistake of underusing or overusing apostrophes in their writing. To ensure that you’re not one of them, here are some things you should know about when to use an apostrophe.

When to Use an Apostrophe: Possession – Singular

When showing that something belongs to someone or something, you use an apostrophe. To do this, you’ll typically add an apostrophe and then the letter -s.

For example, to answer the question “Is this your cup?” you could say, “No. It’s Marlin’s cup.” Since the cup belongs to Marlin, you need to add the apostrophe and -s after his name.

Other examples of possession with singular subjects include:

  • Shari’s coat
  • today’s weather
  • the turtle’s shell
  • my son’s socks

But what happens if the word doing the possessing already ends with the letter s? Plan on adding the apostrophe at the end of the word, and, if it sounds okay, add an additional -s after it. However, this is a stylistic choice, and in most cases you can just drop the additional s at the end of the word. So, you could refer to Charles’s book or Charles’ book.

When to Use an Apostrophe: Possession – Plural

For plural subjects, add an -s and then an apostrophe. Back to the example above, maybe you have more than one son and you’re referring to the socks that belong to all of them. Then, you would add -s to “son” and say “my sons’ socks.” Other examples include:

  • the girls’ clothes
  • the workers’ time
  • the students’ work
  • the trees’ leaves

How To Use An Apostrophe (’) | Lexico

Are you uncertain about when to use an apostrophe? Many people have difficulty with this punctuation mark. The best way to get apostrophes right is to understand when and why they are used. There are two main cases – click on the links below to find straightforward guidance:

  • Using apostrophes to show possession
  • Using apostrophes to show omission

People are often unsure about whether they should use its (without an apostrophe) or it’s (with an apostrophe). For information about this, you can go straight to the section it's or its?

See also:  Will the thawing of arctic ice release diseases?

Apostrophes showing possession

You use an apostrophe to show that a thing or person belongs or relates to someone or something: instead of saying the party of Ben or the weather of yesterday, you can write Ben’s party and yesterday’s weather.

Here are the main guidelines for using apostrophes to show possession:

Singular nouns and most personal names

  • With a singular noun or most personal names: add an apostrophe plus s:
  • We met at Ben’s party.
  • The dog’s tail wagged rapidly.
  • Yesterday’s weather was dreadful.

Personal names that end in –s

  1. With personal names that end in -s: add an apostrophe plus s when you would naturally pronounce an extra s if you said the word out loud:
  2. He joined Charles’s army in 1642.
  3. Dickens's novels provide a wonderful insight into Victorian England.

  4. Thomas's brother was injured in the accident.

  5. Note that there are some exceptions to this rule, especially in names of places or organizations, for example:
  6. St Thomas’ Hospital
  7. If you aren’t sure about how to spell a name, look it up in an official place such as the organization’s website.

  8. With personal names that end in -s but are not spoken with an extra s: just add an apostrophe after the -s:
  9. The court dismissed Bridges' appeal.
  10. Connors' finest performance was in 1991.

Plural nouns that end in –s

  • With a plural noun that already ends in -s: add an apostrophe after the s:
  • The mansion was converted into a girls’ school.
  • The work is due to start in two weeks’ time.
  • My duties included cleaning out the horses’ stables.

Plural nouns that do not end in -s

  1. With a plural noun that doesn’t end in –s: add an apostrophe plus s:
  2. The children’s father came round to see me.
  3. He employs 14 people at his men’s clothing store.

The only cases in which you do not need an apostrophe to show belonging is in the group of words called possessive pronouns – these are the words his, hers, ours, yours, theirs (meaning ‘belonging to him, her, us, you, or them’) – and with the possessive determiners.

These are the words his, hers, its, our, your, their (meaning 'belonging to or associated with him, her, it, us, you, or them'). See also it's or its?

Apostrophes showing omission

  • An apostrophe can be used to show that letters or numbers have been omitted. Here are some examples of apostrophes that indicate missing letters:
  • I’m – short for I am
  • he’ll – short for he will
  • she’d – short for she hador she would
  • pick n’ mix – short for pick and mix
  • it’s hot – short for it is hot
  • didn’t – short for did not

It also shows that numbers have been omitted, especially in dates, e.g. the Berlin Wall came down in the autumn of ’89 (short for 1989).

It’s or its?

These two words can cause a lot of confusion: many people are uncertain about whether or not to use an apostrophe. These are the rules to remember:

  • its (without an apostrophe) means ‘belonging to it’:

The dog wagged its tail.

Each case is judged on its own merits.

  • it’s (with an apostrophe) means ‘it is’ or ‘it has’:
  1. It’s been a long day.
  2. It’s cold outside.
  3. It’s a comfortable car and it’s got some great gadgets.

Apostrophes and plural forms

The general rule is that you should not use an apostrophe to form the plurals of nouns, abbreviations, or dates made up of numbers: just add -s (or -es, if the noun in question forms its plural with -es). For example:

euro euros (e.g. The cost of the trip is 570 euros.)
pizza pizzas (e.g. Traditional Italian pizzas are thin and crisp.)
apple apples (e.g. She buys big bags of organic apples and carrots.)
MP MPs (e.g. Local MPs are divided on this issue.)
1990 1990s (e.g. The situation was different in the 1990s.)

It's very important to remember this grammatical rule.

There are one or two cases in which it is acceptable to use an apostrophe to form a plural, purely for the sake of clarity:

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters:

I've dotted the i's and crossed the t's.

Find all the p's in appear.

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers:

Find all the number 7’s.

These are the only cases in which it is generally considered acceptable to use an apostrophe to form plurals: remember that an apostrophe should never be used to form the plural of ordinary nouns, names, abbreviations, or numerical dates.

You can read more rules and guidelines about apostrophes on the Oxford Dictionaries blog. Here you will find further examples of correct and incorrect use of apostrophes.

  • Back to punctuation.
  • You may also be interested in
  • Semicolon (;)
  • Colon (:)
  • Comma (,)

More from the OxfordWords blog

See more from Punctuation

Using apostrophes

We use the apostrophe for three reasons.

To show that a letter or letters are missing

For example:

  • I'm going to the zoo.
  • You can't feed the animals.
  • It's a lovely day out, isn't it?

To show possession

In the singular, the apostrophe comes before the 's'. In the plural it comes after the 's'.

For example:

  • The girl's idea was accepted. (Singular – the idea a girl has had)
  • The girls' idea was accepted. (Plural – an idea a group of girls has had)
  • The company's management must tackle this. (The management of one company)
  • The companies' management must tackle this. (The management of several companies)

If a plural noun doesn't end in 's', we add an apostrophe and an 's'.

For example:

  • This is the people's choice.
  • We invited the children's parents to this event.

With names or singular nouns that end in 's', 'x' or 'z', we usually add an apostrophe followed by 's'.

For example:

  • The bus's journey came to an end.
  • The fox's den was well hidden.
  • Liz's bag cut into her shoulder.

However, if it sounds better, it is acceptable to just add the apostrophe.

For example:

  • Karl Benz' vehicle was the first to be driven by an internal-combustion engine.
  • Euripides' plays show innovation.

In some expressions of time

For example:

  • We have been given a week's notice. (Singular)
  • We have been given two weeks' notice. (Plural)

When apostrophes must not be used

Normal plurals don't need an apostrophe.

For example:

  • We sell oranges and lemons.
  • The 1980s are a blur.
  • MPs debating this today.
  • People in their 70s need to renew their licence every three years.

The word 'its', used to show possession, doesn't have an apostrophe. 'It's' with an apostrophe means 'it is' or 'it has'. For example:

  • The company now has its own car park. It's to the rear of the building. It's been there for about a year now.

Copyright

Plain English Campaign owns the copyright to this guide. You can save one copy of the guide to disk, and print one copy out for your personal use. You must not make more than one copy without our permission.

#1 Grammar and Spell checker

Apostrophes are tiny, but they can cause big problems when they are used incorrectly. This basic guide is designed to help you learn how & when to use an apostrophe – the right way.

What is an Apostrophe?

We use the apostrophe to transform various words into plurals, contractions, and possessive forms. Without apostrophes, the English language would seem even more confusing. In a nutshell: there is logic

When to Use Apostrophes with Plural Forms

To make it is easier to remember when to use an apostrophe, keep in mind that most plurals do not contain apostrophes.

  • She wrote several novels during the 1990s.
  • There are twenty PhDs on staff.
  • My friends and I have similar IQs.

It is possible adding an apostrophe to single letters or digits, as in these examples:

  • There is 1 m, 4 i’s, 4 s’s and 2 p’s in ‘Mississippi’.
  • There are two 7’s in 747.

Creating Contracted Verbs with Apostrophes

Contracted verbs are single words that have been formed from a subject and a verb. While contracted verbs might not always be acceptable for use in academic prose or in business writing, they can be extremely useful for personal communication and many other forms of writing. A few apostrophe examples below:

  • I am – I’m:  “I’m planning to write a book someday.”
  • You are – You’re:  “You’re going to have a lot of fun with your new puppy.”
  • She is – She’s:  “She’s always on time.”
  • It is – It’s: “I can’t believe it’s snowing again.”
  • Do not – Don’t:

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*