How to Use Apostrophes

Who would’ve thought that one tiny symbol like an apostrophe (‘) could (rightfully) confuse so many people? They not only look so similar to other punctuation marks (like the single and double quotation marks, the prime symbol, and the acute accent) but also serve a couple of different purposes. But with a bit of training and knowing some simple rules, you’ll become the master of apostrophes in no time.

Rule #1: Contractions

In writing, contractions are the shortened forms of two (or three) words from which you always take out some letters. Then, at the place of those letters you remove, you add the apostrophe. The most common examples are:

  • I’m (“I am”)
  • it’s (“it is” or “it has”)
  • we’ll (“we will”)
  • won’t (“will not”)
  • let’s (“let us”)
  • can’t (“can not” or “cannot”)
  • I’d (“I would”)
  • they’ve (“they have”)
  • she’d’ve (“she would have”)

ūüí° The apostrophe appears precisely in the position of the omitted letters!

ūüí° Although it isn’t wrong to use contractions in formal writing, still use them sparingly.

Rule #2: Possessives

When you want to show that one person/thing owns or is a member of something, the general rule is to use apostrophes. However, you have to watch out for a couple of things, but there’s nothing to worry about if you stick to our guide. 

Singular Possessives

Add an apostrophe plus the letter “s” to show possession with a singular noun.

Peter‘s¬†car.
Jane‘s¬†dog.
The neighbor‘s¬†garden.
The principal‘s¬†office.
My daughter‘s¬†school.

Watch out for nouns that already end on “s.” According to most style guides, you simply keep the “s” and only add the apostrophe, or, as shown above, you add the apostrophe and another “s” right after it.

My boss’¬†wife.¬†
The TV series’¬†final season.
Texas’¬†weather.

OR

My boss’s¬†wife.
The TV series’s¬†finale season.
Texas’s¬†weather.

Plural Possessives

For plural nouns that don’t end on “s,” you stick to the same pattern used for singular nouns without the “s” at the end. However, if the plural form of the noun does end with “s,” you only add the apostrophe and shouldn’t add another “s” after that.

The children‘s¬†game.
The couple‘s¬†relationship.
The men‘s¬†restroom.

My parents’¬†bedroom.
The bees’¬†hive.
The guys’¬†night out.

Shared Possessives

There are also cases where you want to show that someone or something is shared by several people or things together. When this happens, you add an apostrophe and “s” at the end of the second noun.

Jane and Joseph‘s¬†presentation.
The husband and wife‘s¬†wedding.
Jane Doe and Jim Smith‘s¬†anatomy book.

Individual Possessives

You may also stumble upon a situation where different people or things own the same thing – only each individually. In this case, you add the apostrophe (and “s” if the noun doesn’t end already end with “s”) to both nouns individually.

Patrick‘s¬†and Sophie‘s¬†insurances.¬†
Joseph‘s¬†and Beth‘s¬†houses.

Texas’¬†(Texas’s) and Paris’¬†(Paris’s) weather in summer.
Chris’¬†(Chris’s) and Ross’¬†(Ross’s) pets.