The correct use of the apostrophe in English is problematic for both natives and English-language learners alike. Refresh your understanding of the rules of apostrophe use with the following simple explanations.
Apostrophes are used to form contractions, the shortened form of one or two words created by omitting letters. The apostrophe takes the place of the missing letters.
can’t = cannot
it’s = it is
don’t = do not
could’ve = could have
‘til = until
Apostrophes also indicate possession. To form possessives, follow these rules:
Add ’s to the singular form:
the boy’s book
Chris’s coat (Chris’ coat is also acceptable in this case.)
Add ’s to the plural forms that do not end in -s:
the children’s toys
the mice’s tails
Add ’ to plural nouns that end in -s:
the two dogs’ bones
my sisters’ husbands
Add ’s to the last noun to indicate joint possession of an object:
Mike and Jenny’s house
Apostrophes denote the plurals of lowercase letters. When a letter appears in lowercase, form the plural by adding ’s after the letter. Capitalized letters, numbers and symbols do not need apostrophes.
Non-native Spanish speakers have trouble trilling their r’s.
Mind your p’s and q’s.
The man claimed he saw three UFOs.
Disco was popular in the 1970s.
When NOT to use an apostrophe
Apostrophes should never be used with possessive pronouns such as its and hers because these words already indicate possession.
wrong: The team won it’s third title.
correct: The team won its third title.
Avoid randomly using apostrophes with plural nouns.
wrong: He rode six miles’ into town.
correct: He rode six miles into town.
Do you frequently make mistakes with apostrophes in your writing? Here are a couple of tips to use when proofreading:
- If you have a habit of leaving off apostrophes, check the words that end in -s or -es to see if they need an apostrophe.
- If you are guilty of using too many apostrophes, check each apostrophe to see if you can justify it with one of the rules mentioned above.