About Apostrophes

Apostrophes are used in contractions (can’tdidn’t, wont) 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

Click here for a post explaining how to use apostrophes with family names, like Johnson and Reynolds. And click here for a practice exercise that you can check yourself.

You can also watch a free presentation about apostrophes: Click here.


4 thoughts on “About Apostrophes

  1. Sarah


    how do you correctly list St Pats in football fxtures
    e,g, St Pats V St Marys
    St Pats V Cork
    that is all that is included in the fixture

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    I’m not familiar with “football fixtures.” But I can tell you how apostrophes are usually done: St Pat’s and St Mary’s. The rule is to spell the word or name (Pat, Mary) and put the apostrophe after the last letter of the name.

  3. Fernando

    if “Apostrophes represent omitted letters in contractions” eg. Let us = Let’s. what are the omiited letters in the possesive example “Karen’s books”?

  4. ballroomdancer Post author

    Apostrophes have three uses. One is omitted letters (Let us = let’s). Another is possessives (Karen’s books = books of Karen). Another is plurals of letters and numerals: Make sure your 4’s don’t look like 9’s.

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