How to Use Apostrophes

by • July 20, 2012

Like the comma, the apostrophe wields amazing power. The talented little dot-and-tail combination (though written at the top of the line, not at the bottom like the comma) can change pronouns to verbs, tell you who owns what, replace a small handful of letters, and make plurals. It comes from the Greek words meaning to turn from or omission.

After commas, apostrophes seem to be the most misused punctuation mark; grammar vigilantes have their work cut out for them.

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Possessive Case of Nouns

With the addition of ’s  (or sometimes just the apostrophe), a noun can change from a plain old person, place or thing to a person, place or thing that owns something.

— If the noun doesn’t end with an s, add ’s to the end of the noun.

Example:  This is Mary and a dog. The dog is Marys; Mary is not the dogs.

— If the noun ends with an s, add ’s OR add just the apostrophe to the end of the noun, depending on style guide preference.

Examples: Where is Jess’ book bag?

My parents house is a lovely old one.

— If you have a compound noun, change only the last one to the possessive.

Example: Mike and Amandas new loft apartment is really neat.

— If the possessor is a building, an object, or a piece of furniture, then you don’t need to add an apostrophe to show possession.

Example: The hotel’s room –> the hotel room

Contractions and Omissions

Apostrophes can show an omission of letters, whether as part of a contraction or when showing dialect or accent.

Examples: I’m = I am

Can’t = can not, cannot

Where’s = where is

Apostrophes and Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns don’t require an apostrophe.

Examples: That book is his’. —> That book is his.

No, it’s mine’s! —> No, it’s mine!

The cat washed it’s face. = The cat washed its face. (It’s is a contraction of it is, not a possessive pronoun.)

!! Exception: Indefinite pronouns can be made possessive with an apostrophe.

Indefinite pronouns can be made possessive with the use of ’s. Indefinite pronouns are words like someone, other, and any.

Examples : One – one’s 

Is this anyone’s backpack lying here on the ground?

Forming Plurals of Lower- and Upper-case Letters

When you’re trying to describe plural letters, use ’s after the letter so that it’s clearly identified as a letter, not a word. If, for instance, you write is instead of i’s, your reader will get confused between the verb and the letter i.

Example: Mind your p’s and q’s, my dear!