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Apostrophes

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark (‘) used to indicate either:

  • possession (e.g. Bob ‘ s book ; boys ‘ books )
  • or the omission of letters or numbers (e.g. can ‘ t ; I ‘ve s ; 20 Mar. ‘ 19 ).

Apostrophes - Possessives

Possessives nouns

Apostrophes are added to indicate the possessive case, i.e. to show “ownership”. The placement of the apostrophe depends on whether the noun is singular (one person or entity) or plural (multiple persons or entities), and whether the noun already ends in “s”.

For singular nouns, insert the apostrophe before an “s” at the end of the word:’s:
  • Jane’s business
  • the child’s shoes
  • the student’s essays
  • one week’s salary
  • this year’s trends.

This also applies to singular nouns ending in “s”, and to plural nouns that do not end in “s”: ’s:

  • the lens’s range
  • children’s shoes
  • men’s clothing
  • the people’s choice.
For plural nouns that end in “s”, insert the apostrophe after the “s”: s’:
  • the speakers’ speeches (referring to speeches given by multiple speakers)
  • the students’ essays (referring to multiple students)
  • previous years’ results
  • two weeks’leave
  • the Smiths’ house.

For personal names ending in “s”, the best rule is to add “ ’s ” or put the apostrophe after the final “s” according to the way you would say it:

  • James’ speeches
  • Mark Jones’s car.

Decades should be expressed as:

  • the 1980s
  • the mid-1980s
  • the late 1980s.

There is no apostrophe before the “s”.

Common errors

Possessive forms of personal pronouns never take the apostrophe

  • Incorrect
her’s, it’s, our’s, your’s, their’s The bird sang in it’s cage
  • Correct
hers, its, ours, yours, theirs The bird sang in its cage

Apostrophes - Contractions

Contractions

Apostrophes are added to show that letters have been omitted in combined word forms.

For example:

  • she’s (she is)
  • we’re (we are)
  • you’ll (you will)
  • it’s (it is)
  • you’re (you are)
  • who’s (who is)
  • isn’t (is not)
  • can’t (can not)
  • don’t (do not)
  • Andrew’s gone out to lunch (Andrew has …).

An apostrophe will fill the space of the missing letters

  • is + not = isn’t
  • I + am = I’m
  • You + have = you’ve
  • We + are = We’re
  • She + will = She’ll
Omissions

Using apostrophes to show omissions can make your writing look informal.
For example:

  • rock and roll – rock ‘n roll
  • the 1980s – ’80s
  • neighbourhood – ‘hood

 

 

Commonly confused words

“Its” is a possessive pronoun: A mind of its own.

“It’s” is a contraction of “it is”: It’s nearly time to go
The correct use is: It’s time the dog went out for its walk.

“Your”, “whose” and “their” are possessive pronouns:

  • your iPhone
  • Whose pen is this?
  • their car.

“You’re” is a contraction of “you are”:

  • You’re not the one to blame.

 

“Who’s” is a contraction of “who is” or “who has”:

  • Who’s going to volunteer?

 

“They’re” is a contraction of “they are”:

  • They’re in a meeting.

 

“There” is an adverb meaning “in that place”:

  • Look over there!

 

“Yours”, “hers” and “his” are possessive pronouns:

  • Yours sincerely. It’s my word against hers.

Apostrophes - Videos

Here are some useful videos to help you understand the use of apostrophes.

The little known apostrophe trick. Simple and easy to use, try it now and get your apostrophe in the right place every time.

How apostrophes are used to show that something belongs to someone or something.

Further information

Visit the Literary Devices website. Which provides examples and definitions of literary terms

Visit OWL Purdue for an introduction on the three apostrophe uses.