Punctuation Rules: How to Use Apostrophes Correctly?

What is Apostrophe?

An apostrophe (’) serves two essential functions; it indicates possession or ownership and is used to mark where letters have been omitted to form a contraction. Well, if you want to learn about how to use an apostrophe correctly, we’ll discuss and break down all the rules here.


how to use apostrophes correctly

Using apostrophes correctly, via jixifox.me

How to Use Apostrophes Correctly?

An apostrophe can be a little confusing for most English learners, even for native English speakers. However, this punctuation isn’t difficult to master if you are able to remember a few punctuation rules of the apostrophe. So, what are those punctuation rules of the apostrophe? Here we’ll discuss and explain them.


1. Apostrophe Rules for Possessives

As we’ve mentioned above that an apostrophe is used to show possession, however, there are several ways of how to use apostrophes correctly in showing possession.

With a Singular Noun

You can use an apostrophe to show possession with a singular noun by adding an apostrophe plus the letter s ('s). Look at the examples below:

  • a woman’s purse
  • a baby’s bottle
  • My grandmother’s sewing tools.
  • Her father’s old reading glasses.

To show possession of a singular regular noun ending with y, don’t change the y to -ies.

  • the companies director (incorrect)
  • the company’s director (correct)

When a noun or a proper noun ends with the letter s, there are two ways of how to use apostrophes correctly in this case. Some writers add only an apostrophe to all the nouns that end with s, while others add an apostrophe + s to each proper noun.

The second method is commonly used in many media, for example, newspaper and magazine. So, you can add an apostrophe + s to a common noun ending with s, but put only a standalone apostrophe to a proper noun ending with s. However, both methods are considered as correct forms. To make you clear about when to use apostrophe after s in singular proper and regular nouns, here the examples.

  • the boss’s car
  • the bus’s destination
  • Kansas’ weather is predicted to be cloudy.
  • Kansas’s weather is predicted to be cloudy.
  • Mr. Lucas’ suits are so classy.
  • Mr. Lucas’s suits are so classy.
With Plural Noun

To show plural possession of regular nouns which form their plurals by adding either -s or -es, you can simply put an apostrophe right after the s. To make you clear about when to use apostrophe after s in plural regular nouns, here the examples.

  • Brenda and her friends are having girls’ night out this Saturday. (it implies many girls)
  • Brenda is having a girl’s night out this Saturday. (it implies only one girl)
  • Did you watch the movie last night? Both of my favorite actresses’ roles were so brilliant. (it suggests that the roles were performed by two actresses)
  • Did you watch the movie last night? My favorite actress’s role was so brilliant. (it suggests that the role was performed by one actress only)

To show possession of plural regular noun ending with y, change the y to ies and add an apostrophe.

  • three digital company’s profits (incorrect)
  • three digital companies’ profits (correct)

There’s an exception that doesn’t follow the rule for names and other proper names ending with y. You can make the plural form simply by adding an s without change the y. To show the possession, add an apostrophe after the plural form.

  • The Willies’ house was robbed last night. (incorrect)
  • The Willys’ house was robbed last night. (correct)

Unlike the regular nouns, many English irregular nouns have a particular form for their plural (child, tooth, nucleus, goose, mouse, etc.). These nouns form their plural forms by changing their spelling; sometimes, their singular to plural forms have quite significant changes.

  • The childrens’ Christmas gifts are under the Christmas tree. (incorrect)
  • The children’s Christmas gifts are under the Christmas tree. (correct)
  • My two mouses’ cage is now cleaned. (incorrect)
  • My two mice's cage is now cleaned. (correct)
  • My teeths’ structures are quite good. (incorrect)
  • My teeth’s structures are quite good. (correct)
With Plural Proper Noun Ending with S

Sometimes, things can get really confusing when you face a possessive plural of proper names ending with s, such as Jones and Harris. If you’re the guest of Smith family, it means that you’re the Smith’s guest. But what if the family name is ending with s?

If someone’s family name end with s, we have to add -es for the plural form. So, the plural form of Jones is Joneses and the plural of Harris is Harrises. The plural form (-es) here means the members of the family. To show possession of such word, add an apostrophe at the end of its plural form. Take a look the examples to make you clear about when to use apostrophe after s in plural proper nouns.

  • The Joneses’ dog is so smart and loyal.
  • The Harrises’ new car is the latest model of this year.

In serious and formal writing, you have to follow the rule no matter how unfamiliar or awkward the result would be. However, don’t use the apostrophe to make a name plural.

  • I visited Larry’s last summer. (incorrect)
  • I visited Larrys last summer. (correct)
With a Singular Compound Noun

When you have a singular compound noun, you can show its possession by adding an apostrophe + s at the end of the compound word.

  • my brother-in-law’s shoes
  • his sister-in-law’s bag
With Plural Compound Noun

If the compound noun is considered as a plural noun, you can form the plural first, and then use the apostrophe + s.

  • my two sisters-in-law’s purses
  • My two brothers-in-law’s dogs are so cute.
With Two People Possessions

If two people possess the same item, you can put the apostrophe + s only after the second noun.

  • Andy and Diana’s house is luxuriously furnished.
  • Jane and Linda’s car was parked near the apartment.

However, if one of the shared owners is written as a pronoun, you have to use possessive form for both; using an apostrophe + s and adjective pronoun. Don’t confuse adjective pronouns (my, your, her, our, their) with possessive pronouns (mine, yours, hers, ours, theirs).

  • Diego’s and my home is built near the town park. (correct)
  • Diego’s and mine home is built near the town park. (incorrect)
  • Diego and my home is built near the town park. (incorrect)
  • Her and Andy’s company is celebrating the fifth anniversary today. (correct)
  • Hers and Andy’s company is celebrating the fifth anniversary today. (incorrect)
  • She and Andy’s company is celebrating the fifth anniversary today. (incorrect)

The two people possessives sometimes may lead to confusion; for example, a valuable painting of her and Erik’s mansion. This sentence could refer to a painting of "her" in front of the mansion that is owned by Erik or a painting of the house that she and Erik co-owned. To avoid such ambiguous sentence, you should consider rewriting such sentence.

If both people you mentioned have different possession, you should use the possessives form (apostrophe + s) for both.

  • Mike’s and Martin’s cars are both the latest sports cars. (it means, Mike and Martin have a different car that don’t belong jointly)
  • Mike and Martin’s cars are both the latest sports cars. (it means, the cars belong to both of them)

2. Apostrophe Rules for Contractions

When combining two words to make a contraction, certain letters will be taken out and replaced by an apostrophe.

  • I am => I’m
  • You are => you’re
  • she is => she’s
  • they have => they’ve
  • are not => aren’t
  • do not => don’t
  • he will => he’ll
  • I had => I’d
  • we would => we’d
  • o’clock = of the clock

There’s one exception to this rule is the contraction "won’t" which is "will not".

Sometimes, apostrophes also can be used to mark unpronounced sounds in colloquial expressions or dialect.

  • supposes => s'pose
  • until => ‘till
  • rock and roll => rock ‘n’ roll

Keep in mind that you have to avoid such contractions in formal writing and use only for very informal writing.

With Years

You can use an apostrophe to replace the first two numbers in a year, especially in the year of a graduating class.

  • class of ‘75

Keep in mind that this writing style is considered informal. In serious or formal writing, include all the four digits instead.

However, if a year is a possessive form ending with an apostrophe, you may also use an apostrophe for the two digits. For a better writing, change the possessive into an "of" phrase.

  • the ’80s’ fashions (awkward)
  • the 80s’ fashions (acceptable)
  • the fashions of the ’80s (advisable)

3. Avoid Using an Apostrophe to Make Regulars Noun Plural

As a regular plural noun is formed by adding either -s or -es at the end of the word, don’t use an apostrophe + s to make a regular noun plural.

  • Smartphone’s are no longer considered as expensive thing’s. (incorrect)
  • Smartphones are no longer considered as expensive things. (correct)
  • When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to open my Christmas present’s. (incorrect)
  • When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to open my Christmas presents. (correct)

In certain unusual cases such as when forming a plural form of a word that isn’t considered as a normal noun, you can either put s or add apostrophe + s at the end of the word.

  • This website has an article about dos and don’ts of caring for cats. (correct)
  • This website has an article about do’s and don’ts of caring for cats. (correct)

However, it’s advisable to use an apostrophe with a single lowercase letters to avoid ambiguity and confusion.

  • His A’s look like upside down U’s. (correct)
  • His As look like upside down Us. (it’s confusing)

4. Don’t Use an Apostrophe with Possessive and Reflexive Pronouns

Don’t use possessive pronouns (hers, ours, yours, theirs, its, whose) and reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, himself, herself, oneself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves).

  • Who’s pencil is this?
  • Whose pencil is this?
  • She cut her’s self when slicing an onion.
  • She cut herself when slicing an onion.

Well, that’s all our discussion about how to use apostrophes correctly. We hope it can help you to improve your writing skill. To find more about punctuation rules, you can click on the punctuation rules label that we’ve provided. While, if you’re looking for the other English lessons about grammar rules, vocabulary, text genres, etc., you can visit the index page of ContohText.

Punctuation Rules: How to Use Apostrophes Correctly? Punctuation Rules: How to Use Apostrophes Correctly? Reviewed by ContohText on 12/17/2018 Rating: 5

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