Apostrophes are used in contractions (can’t, didn’t, won‘t) and in “of” ideas: Mary’s car (car of Mary), a puppy’s toys (toys of a puppy).
Teachers sometimes say that apostrophes “show possession,” and that’s true: Mary’s car. But actually apostrophes have a broader meaning. For example, you could talk about Mary’s desk in a classroom even though she doesn’t own it (the School Board does). It’s the “desk of Mary.”
Apostrophes DO NOT mean “more than one.”
Note these examples:
The Browns live on the next block.
The Browns’ house has a swimming pool. (house of the Browns)
Karen’s books are on her desk. (books of Karen)
There are two Karens in my biology class.
Apostrophes are always placed after the last letter of a word or name. If you know how to spell the word or name, you know where the apostrophe goes:
John John’s car is in the garage.
Louis Louis’ car is in the garage. OR Louis’s car is in the garage.
Mr. Brown Mr. Brown’s car is in the garage.
The Browns The Browns’ car is in the garage.
baby The baby’s medicine needs to be refrigerated.
babies This week babies’ clothing is on sale.
family I’m very interested in my family’s history.
families Both families’ houses are being remodeled this summer.
woman I heard a woman’s voice on the phone, but I couldn’t identify it.
women When will women’s shoes go on sale?
boy A boy’s bicycle is parked by her back door.
boys We carry all sizes of boys’ jackets.
If a name ends in “s,” you can add an extra “s” – or omit it. You decide!
Jean Reynolds’ website has many resources for writers. CORRECT
Jean Reynolds’s website has many resources for writers. CORRECT
Apostrophes can also be used in “of” expressions related to time:
a day’s pay (pay of a day)
two days’ absence (absence of two days)
a good night’s sleep (sleep of a night)
three years’ experience (experience of three years)
a week’s vacation (vacation of a week)
If you don’t have an “of” idea or a contraction, DON’T use an apostrophe:
The Johnsons sent me a birthday card. CORRECT
The Johnsons’ birthday card surprised me. CORRECT
My family’s vacation wasn’t long enough. CORRECT
Having fun together keeps families strong. CORRECT
Apostrophes represent omitted letters in contractions. Be careful with spelling:
I am getting ready for my trip to Cleveland. CORRECT
I’m getting ready for my trip to Cleveland. CORRECT
Joe is going with me. CORRECT
Joe’s going with me. CORRECT
Possessive pronouns (like his) don’t get apostrophes:
That book is hers, and this one is mine. CORRECT
Florida is seeing a decline in its population. CORRECT
The Acme Corporation doubled its profits last year. CORRECT
Is that beautiful car yours? CORRECT
It’s has only one meaning – a contraction of it is:
I won’t need a ride home unless it’s raining. CORRECT
It’s difficult to find a suitable gift for my mother-in-law. CORRECT
When its is possessive (like his), omit the apostrophe:
The company doubled its profits last year. CORRECT [Like: The company doubled his profits.]
My jacket is missing one of its buttons. CORRECT [Like: one of his buttons]
Apostrophes aren’t difficult to learn! Thinking about apostrophes you come across in your reading is another good way to increase your ability to understand and use apostrophes.
There’s one more way to use apostrophes. When you’re writing the plural of a numeral or a letter, use an apostrophe:
Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. CORRECT
The cashier gave me my change in 1’s and 5’s. CORRECT
During the 60’s, many young people protested the Vietnam War. [Note: Writers are using this apostrophe less often than they used to.] CORRECT
You can also watch a free presentation about apostrophes: Click here.