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Apostrophe Grammar Rules and Examples, Best Tips
Our tips allow you to follow correct apostrophe grammar rules in all of your writing. For those needing extra help, these apostrophe rules and examples provide an easy guide to follow.
The apostrophe is likely to cause more grief than all the other marks of punctuation put together! The issue almost always seems to arise from not knowing that in English, the apostrophe has two very different (and very significant) uses: possession and contractions.
In languages using the Latin alphabet and some other alphabets, the apostrophe (‘ or’) character is a punctuation mark and often a diacritical spot. Apostrophe used for three purposes in English:
- Marking one or more letters of omission (as in the contraction of not to don’t).
- The marking of the possessive case of nouns (as in the feathers of the eagle, at your parents’ [home] in one month).
- Marking of individual character plurals (e.g., p’s and q’s).
Even for native English speakers, apostrophes (‘) may be confusing. They are not hard to learn, though, if you can recall a few apostrophe grammar rules.
Points to remember in apostrophe grammar rules
Apostrophes have three primary uses: to indicate ownership, omissions, plural letters, numbers, and symbols.
- In a contraction like do not or can not, an apostrophe stands in for the missing letter(s).
- If something is plural and indicates ownership, put an apostrophe after the “s.” You may also add another “s,” but it is typically not needed after the apostrophe.
- You don’t need an apostrophe if anything is plural but not possessive.
- Using just an apostrophe ending in’s’ for last names as they show ownership.
- Replace the century with an apostrophe to shorten decades, and add a’s’ at the end of the amount. Before or after the ‘s’, never placed the apostrophe.
Uh? Confused? With examples of each one in effect, let’s look at these apostrophe grammar rules. You’ll know when to use this flexible punctuation mark for contractions, dates, ownership, last names, and words that end in’s’ by the time you finish reading this short guide.
Important apostrophe rules and examples
Apostrophes and Possession
Ownership, also known in the grammar world as possession, often demands apostrophes. In the case of nouns and pronouns, this is true. You’ll use some apostrophes and s, depending on whether your noun is singular or plural.
Possessive phrases and phrases confuse many individuals, including self-proclaimed nerds of grammar. You need to understand when to use’s or s ‘, plus when to use an apostrophe after the name of’s.’
The general rule for forming possessives
For singular nouns
The general rule is that the possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe and s to a singular noun, whether the singular noun ends in s.
- anyone’s guess
- a week’s vacation
- Texas’s oil industry
- Your cat’sfood bowl is empty.
- Your car’swindshield is crack
To demonstrate that one person/thing owns or is a member of something, use an apostrophe + S (‘s).
Robert’s car, Ross’s place, Ross’s sports team,
Yes, even if the name ends in “s,” to create the possessive form, it is still correct to add another “‘s” To make them possessive, it is also acceptable to add only an apostrophe to the end of singular nouns that end in “s” In this case, for Ross, you can show possession either way:
Whether the item possessed is singular or plural makes no difference. To say that the room (singular) is his and that the sports teams (plural) are his, we use ‘Ross’s.’
For plural nouns
To indicate possession, use an apostrophe after the “s” at the end of a plural noun.
Plural nouns typically do not require an additional ‘s’, such as twins and teachers. Add an apostrophe to indicate ownership after the ‘s’ and stop using ‘es.’
- The parents’ bedroom
- The Smiths’ lives
- Change your twins’ dirty diapers, not your twin’s or twinses
- Stay out of the teachers’ lounge if you’re a student or parent.
If a plural noun does not end in’ S.’
To create the possessive form, a plural noun does not end in “s,” add an apostrophe + “s.”
- the alumni’s fundraising
- Shop for high heels in the women’s section.
- Find toys near the children’s books and clothes.
Remember, if there is an “s” already, you can add the apostrophe. If there is no “s,” you must add both of them – first the apostrophe, then the “s.”
For proper nouns
Proper nouns (names of persons, towns, countries) that end in s may either add the apostrophe + s or add the apostrophe to form the possessive.
Today both types are considered right (Jones’s or Jones ‘), and when publishing their name, many large companies now remove the apostrophe entirely (e.g. Barclays Bank, Missing Persons Bureau).
- The Hughes’ home (or the Hughes’s home)
- Mr. Jones’s shop (or Mr. Jones’ shop)
- Charles’ book (or Charles’s book)
Use an Apostrophe with Last Names
When they see last names, many people can’t resist adding unnecessary apostrophes. While spreading holiday cheer, chatting about mates, or shopping for home décor, beware of apostrophe violence. Only to illustrate ownership should they be used.
Incorrect: Festive Greetings from the Smith’s
Correct: Festive Greetings from the Smiths
If you can’t resist the urge to add an apostrophe to your surname, make sure it shows possession.
- Happy Holidays from the Smith’sCute Kitties
- Happy Halloween from the Rodriguez Family’sLovable Pups
- Please join us at Johnson’shome for a pool party.
Exceptions to the general rule of apostrophe grammar rules
When they are followed by sake, nouns that end in an s sound take only an apostrophe.
Example may include
- for goodness’ sake
- for conscience’s sake
A proper noun is left as is, which is already in possessive form.
- McDonald’s menu was simplified in response to COVID-19.
- Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s produce quality has never seemed to me as good as Waitrose’s.
Exception about “its”
When you want to make the word it possessive, write its, not it’s. It’s is a contraction for it is.
Exception about “whose”
Another exception that confuses for similar reasons is whose and who’s.
- Whose is a possessive that doesn’t use a contraction.
- Who’s is the contraction for who is.
- Apostrophes and Contraction
The most common use of apostrophes in English is for contractions, where a noun or pronoun and a verb are combined.
Remember that the apostrophe often replaces a letter that has dropped. It is a place where the letter would have been missing in that case.
When you combine two words to make a contraction, you’re always going to take out a few letters. Use the apostrophe instead.
they + have = they’ve;
are + not = aren’t;
they + will = they’ll
When you connect two words, the apostrophe is a grammatical stick that holds them together. This missing letter, or letter, is called an omission.
Contractions are usually considered relatively casual. If you’re writing something very formal, you might want to avoid using it except in cases like o’clock, where the full phrase (of the clock) truly is rare.
How Years Become Contractions?
As we use apostrophes to shorten some of the words, we can also shorten the years (but not turn back the clock, unfortunately).
When we write a year formally, we usually use four numbers. Take 1989, for instance.
- The first two numbers are for the century.
- The third number is ten years old.
- Finally, the last number is the specific year of the decade.
In the same way that can’t be a more informal way of saying that we cannot, we can use apostrophes to express informally for decades.
- The 190s became the ’60s.
- The 1970s became the ’70s.
- The 1980s became the ’80s.
More examples of contraction
- 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 “have.”
I have, you have, we have, they have
I’ve, you’ve, we’ve, they’ve
- Using “would”
I would; you would, he would, we would, they would
I’d, you’d, he’d, we’d, they’d
- Using “are.”
you are, they are, we are
you’re, they’re, we’re
- 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
Apostrophes and Plurals: apostrophe grammar rules
The general rule is that you should not use the apostrophe to make the plurals of names, abbreviations or dates made up of numbers: just add-s (or -es, if the noun in question forms its plural with -es).
(e.g., The cost of the trip is 570 euros.)
(e.g., Traditional Italian pizzas are thin and crisp.)
(e.g., She buys big bags of organic apples and carrots.)
(e.g., Local MPs are divided on this issue.)
(e.g., The situation was different in the 1990s.)
It is essential to remember this grammatical rule.
There are one or two cases in which it is acceptable to use the apostrophe as a plural, purely for the sake of clarity:
You can use the apostrophe to display the plurals of single letters:
- I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.
- Find all the p’s in appearing.
You can use the apostrophe to display the plurals of single numbers:
- Find all the number 7’s.
Mentioned above are the only cases in which it is generally acceptable to use an apostrophe to form plurals: remember that an apostrophe should never use to create a plurality of common nouns, names, abbreviations or numerical dates.
Using these apostrophe rules and examples should provide you with the information you need to improve your writing. Of course, our apostrophe grammar rules are only part of the writing experience. Sign up for our newsletter and updates for more writing tips!