© 2000, 1978 Margaret L. Benner
An apostrophe is a small punctuation mark ( ’ ) placed after a noun to show that the noun owns something.
The apostrophe will always be placed either before or after an s at the end of the noun owner.
Always the noun owner will be followed (usually immediately) by the thing it owns.
- How can you know:
- 1. when to use an apostrophe
2. where to place the apostrophe CORRECTLY?
- TO MAKE A SINGULAR NOUN POSSESSIVE, FOLLOW THESE STEPS:
- First, determine which noun is the owner:
- a cow’s nose
- To qualify for apostrophe use, the owner:
- 1. must be a noun (cow)
- 2. must be positioned in front of the thing it owns
- That’s all there is to it!
- a cow’s nose means a cow owns a nose
- Link to Exercise 1
- Now you know when and how to make a singular noun show possession with an apostrophe.
- The rules for apostrophe use with a plural noun owner are just a little more complicated.
- Follow these steps.
2. If the noun owner is plural (more than one owner), do these two things.
- Place an apostrophe at the end of the noun owner.
- Check to see whether the plural noun already ends in s.
four cows’ noses (yes, it does)
If the plural noun DOES end in s (as most English plural nouns do), do NOT add another s. You have already formed the plural possessive.
four cows’ noses
Here are some examples of plural possessive nouns. Notice how each follows the rules for apostrophe placement.
Link to Exercise 2
The exception to the plural possessive rule . . .
A few plural nouns do not end in s. Instead, these nouns form their plural with an internal change.
To form the possessive of such plural nouns, follow these steps.
For our example, we will use this sentence:
- Now the plural possessive is formed correctly.
- NOTE THE DIFFERENCE!
- Correct possessive form for plural noun owners that end in s:
- Correct possessive form for plural noun owners that do not end in s:
- Link to Exercise 3
- SHOWING POSSESSION WITH PRONOUNS
You have learned that nouns form their possessive by adding apostrophes. Some pronouns form their possessive in the same way as singular possessive nouns.
However, one group of pronouns does NOT add an apostrophe to form the possessive. This group is the personal pronouns.
- Most of these personal pronouns offer no problem.
- *Only its gives many people trouble.
- Some writers mistakenly write it’s to indicate the possessive form of it.
- THIS IS AN ERROR!
THE CORRECT USE OF IT’S . . .
- It’s is ALWAYS a contraction for it is or it has.
- Its (NO apostrophe) is the possessive form of it.
- Link to Exercise 4
- Link to the POST TEST
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.
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:
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.
The Apostrophe | English Grammar | EF
The apostrophe probably causes more grief than all of the other punctuation marks put together! The problem nearly always seems to stem from not understanding that the apostrophe has two very different (and very important) uses in English: possession and contractions.
The apostrophe in contractions
The most common use of apostrophes in English is for contractions, where a noun or pronoun and a verb combine. Remember that the apostrophe is often replacing a letter that has been dropped. It is placed where the missing letter would be in that case.
|Using “not”||is not, has not, had not, did not, would not, can not||isn't, hasn't, hadn't, didn't, wouldn't, can't|
|Using “is”||she is, there is, he is, it is, Mary is, Jim is, Germany is, who is||she's, there's, he's, it's, Mary's, Jim's, Germany's, who's|
|Using “am”||I am||I'm|
|Using “will”||I will, you will, she will, we will, they will||I'll, you'll, she'll, we'll, they'll|
|Using “would”||I would, you would, he would, we would, they would||I'd, you'd, he'd, we'd, they'd|
|Using “have”||I have, you have, we have, they have||I've, you've, we've, they've|
|Using “are”||you are, they are, we are||you're, they're, we're|
People, even native English speakers, often mistake its and it's, you're and your, who's and whose, and they're, their and there. See below for the difference.
The possessive apostrophe
- In most cases you simply need to add 's to a noun to show possession
- Plural nouns that do not end in s also follow this rule:
- Ordinary (or common) nouns that end in s, both singular and plural, show possession simply by adding an apostrophe after the s.
Proper nouns (names of people, cities, countries) that end in s can form the possessive either by adding the apostrophe + s or simply adding the apostrophe. Today both forms are considered correct (Jones's or Jones'), and many large organisations now drop the apostrophe completely (e.g.
Barclays Bank, Missing Persons Bureau) when publishing their name.
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?
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
- 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:
- He joined Charles’s army in 1642.
- Dickens's novels provide a wonderful insight into Victorian England.
- Thomas's brother was injured in the accident.
- Note that there are some exceptions to this rule, especially in names of places or organizations, for example:
- St Thomas’ Hospital
- If you aren’t sure about how to spell a name, look it up in an official place such as the organization’s website.
- With personal names that end in -s but are not spoken with an extra s: just add an apostrophe after the -s:
- The court dismissed Bridges' appeal.
- 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
- With a plural noun that doesn’t end in –s: add an apostrophe plus s:
- The children’s father came round to see me.
- 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’:
- It’s been a long day.
- It’s cold outside.
- 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 (;)
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More from the OxfordWords blog
See more from Punctuation
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.
- 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.
- Examples: the class's hours Mr. Jones' golf clubs the canvas's size
- 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.
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.”
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.
Since the 1980s, the Thomases, both of whom have multiple PhDs, have sold old books and magazines at the fair on Saturdays and Sundays.
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.
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.
- 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.
- excessive lawyers’ fees
- children’s toys
- the twins’ parents
- the student teachers’ supervisor
- the Smiths’ vacation house
- the Joneses’ vacation house
- the boys’ baseball team
- the alumni’s fundraising
- three weeks’ vacation
- 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.
- 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.
for goodness’ sake
for conscience’ sake
A proper noun that is already in possessive form is left as is.
T.G.I. Friday’s menu was recently changed.
Correct but awkward: Let’s meet at St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s Fifth Avenue entrance.
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.
The house on the left is the Smiths’, but the house at the end of the street is the Whites’.
The house on the left is the Smiths,’ but the house at the end of the street is the Whites.’
Apostrophe Introduction // Purdue Writing Lab
This handout provides rules and examples for apostrophe usage.
The apostrophe has three uses:
- To form possessives of nouns
- To show the omission of letters
- To indicate certain plurals of lowercase letters
Forming Possessives of Nouns
To see if you need to make a possessive, turn the phrase around and make it an “of the…” phrase. For example:
the boy's hat = the hat of the boy
three days' journey = journey of three days
If the noun after “of” is a building, an object, or a piece of furniture, then no apostrophe is needed!
room of the hotel = hotel room door of the car = car door
leg of the table = table leg
Once you've determined whether you need to make a possessive, follow these rules to create one.
- add 's to the singular form of the word (even if it ends in -s):
the owner's car James's hat (James' hat is also acceptable. For plural, proper nouns that are possessive, use an apostrophe after the 's': “The Eggleses' presentation was good.” The Eggleses are a husband and wife consultant team.)
NOTE: the generally accepted convention for most academic styles (including CMOS, APA, and MLA) is to add apostophe + s to the singular form of the word, even if it ends in “s.” Non-academic styles, such as AP, suggest simply adding an apostrophe to the end of a word that ends in “s.” Please check the style guide of whatever format you're using to make sure you're in line with their recommendations.
- add 's to the plural forms that do not end in -s:
the children's game the geese's honking
- add ' to the end of plural nouns that end in -s:
two cats' toys three friends' lettersthe countries' laws
- add 's to the end of compound words:
my brother-in-law's money
- add 's to the last noun to show joint possession of an object:
Todd and Anne's apartment
Showing omission of letters
Apostrophes are used in contractions. A contraction is a word (or set of numbers) in which one or more letters (or numbers) have been omitted. The apostrophe shows this omission. Contractions are common in speaking and in informal writing. To use an apostrophe to create a contraction, place an apostrophe where the omitted letter(s) would go. Here are some examples:
- don't = do not I'm = I am he'll = he will who's = who is shouldn't = should not didn't = did not could've= could have (NOT “could of”!)
- '60 = 1960
Forming plurals of lowercase letters
Apostrophes are used to form plurals of letters that appear in lowercase; here the rule appears to be more typographical than grammatical, e.g. “three ps” versus “three p's.
” To form the plural of a lowercase letter, place 's after the letter.
There is no need for apostrophes indicating a plural on capitalized letters, numbers, and symbols (though keep in mind that some editors, teachers, and professors still prefer them). Here are some examples:
p's and q's = minding your p's and q's is a phrase believed to be taken from the early days of the printing press when letters were set in presses backwards so they would appear on the printed page correctly. Although the origins of this phrase are disputed, the expression was used commonly to mean, “Be careful, don't make a mistake.” Today, the term also indicates maintaining politeness, possibly from “mind your pleases and thank-yous.”
Nita's mother constantly stressed minding one's p's and q's.
three Macintosh G4s = three of the Macintosh model G4
There are three G4s currently used in the writing classroom.
many &s = many ampersands
That printed page has too many &s on it.
the 1960s = the years in decade from 1960 to 1969
The 1960s were a time of great social unrest.
The '60s were a time of great social unrest.
Don't use apostrophes for personal pronouns, the relative pronoun who, or for noun plurals
Apostrophes should not be used with possessive pronouns because possessive pronouns already show possession—they don't need an apostrophe. His, her, its, my, yours, ours are all possessive pronouns. However, indefinite pronouns, such as one, anyone, other, no one, and anybody, can be made possessive. Here are some examples:
INCORRECT: his' book CORRECT: his book CORRECT: one's book CORRECT: anybody's book
INCORRECT: Who's dog is this?
CORRECT: Whose dog is this?
INCORRECT: The group made it's decision.
CORRECT: The group made its decision.
(Note: Its and it's are not the same thing. It's is a contraction for “it is” and its is a possessive pronoun meaning “belonging to it.” It's raining out = it is raining out. A simple way to remember this rule is the fact that you don't use an apostrophe for the possessive his or hers, so don't do it with its!)
INCORRECT: a friend of yours' CORRECT: a friend of yours
INCORRECT: She waited for three hours' to get her ticket. CORRECT: She waited for three hours to get her ticket.
Proofreading for apostrophes
A good time to proofread is when you have finished writing the paper. Try the following strategies to proofread for apostrophes:
- If you tend to leave out apostrophes, check every word that ends in -s or -es to see if it needs an apostrophe.
- If you put in too many apostrophes, check every apostrophe to see if you can justify it with a rule for using apostrophes.
Apostrophes – Microsoft Style Guide
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- To form the possessive case of nouns. For singular nouns, add an apostrophe and an s, even if the noun ends in s, x, or z. To form the possessive of plural nouns that end in s, add only an apostrophe.
the box's contents
the CSS's flexibility
an OEM's product
the Joneses' computer
To indicate a missing letter in a contraction.
- For the possessive form of it.
Example Replace a formula with its calculated value.
- With a possessive pronoun.
Example The choice is yours.
- To form the plural of a singular noun.
Example Play your favorite games on all your devices.
Note Don't use the possessive form of Microsoft trademarks and product, service, or feature names.