10 Rules for Using Apostrophe (‘)

We don’t belong to the age of 1980’s—it was the 1980s, No apostrophe. So, there are specific rules for apostrophe which we need to learn to write better and free from error. The apostrophe may be considered the most abused punctuation mark in the English language. The rules for the apostrophe are much more definite, but they are frequently misapplied. So misunderstanding is being seen often in this case.

Just take a glance at street signs, advertisements, and store hoardings which will demonstrate that almost no one seems to know how to use this mark properly.

But we know!

The apostrophe has two, and only two, uses:

  • To show possession.
  • To indicate the omission of letters or numbers.

To further illustrate this point, let us examine some of the rules that dictate when apostrophes should be used and where they should be placed in a word. Have a look!

Rule # 1

The rules about forming possessives probably cause the most apostrophe confusion. They vary a little bit, depending on what type of noun you are making into a possessive. Use the apostrophe to show possession. To show possession with a singular noun, add an apostrophe plus the letter s.

Examples:

  • a woman’s hat
  • the boss’s wife
  • Helen’s house

It's me

Similarly, many common nouns end in the letter s (lens, cactus, bus, etc.) and so do a lot of proper nouns (Mr. James, Texas, Christmas, etc.).

There are other set of rules and policies about how to show possession when writing such nouns. There is no right answer; the best advice is to choose a formula and stay consistent.

Some writers and experts add only an apostrophe to all nouns ending in s. And some add an apostrophe + s to every proper noun, like in Jones’s.

What is the method?

One method, common in newspapers and magazines, is to add an apostrophe + s (‘s) to common nouns ending in s, but only a stand-alone apostrophe to proper nouns ending in s.

Examples:

  • the class’s hours
  • Jones’ golf clubs
  • the canvas’s size
  • Texas’ weather

Rule # 2

Regular nouns are nouns that form their plurals by adding either the letter s or es (guy, guys; letter, letters; actress, actresses; etc.). To show plural possession, simply put an apostrophe after the s.

Examples:

  • Correct: guys’ night out (guy + s + apostrophe)

Incorrect: guy’s night out (implies only one guy)

  • Correct: two actresses’ roles (actress + es + apostrophe)

Incorrect: two actress’s roles

Similarly, do not use an apostrophe + s to make a regular noun plural.

Examples:

  • Incorrect: Apostrophe’s are confusing.

Correct: Apostrophes are confusing.

I can't believe

English also has many irregular nouns (child, nucleus, tooth, etc.). These nouns become plural by changing their spelling, sometimes becoming quite different words. Write out the entire irregular plural noun before adding an apostrophe or an apostrophe + s.

Examples:

  • Incorrect: two childrens’ hats

The plural is children, not childrens.

Rule # 3

With a singular compound noun has to show possession, it does with an apostrophe + s at the end of the word.

Examples:

  • my mother-in-law’s hat

If the compound noun (e.g., brother-in-law) is to be made plural, form the plural first (brothers-in-law), and then use the apostrophe + s.

Examples:

  • my two brothers-in-law’s hats

Rule # 4

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

Examples:

  • Sara and Mabel’s home is constructed of redwood.

However, if one of the joint owners is written as a pronoun, use the possessive form for both.

Examples:

  • Incorrect: Maribel and my home

Incorrect: Mine and Maribel’s home

Correct: Maribel’s and my home

It's

In cases of separate rather than joint possession, use the possessive form for both.

Examples:

  • Sara’s and Mabel’s homes are both lovely.

They don’t own the homes jointly.

Rule # 5

Use an apostrophe with contractions. The apostrophe is placed where a letter or letters have been removed.

Examples:

  • Correct: Doesn’t, it’s, ’tis, can’t, you’d, should’ve, rock ‘n’ roll, etc.

Incorrect: does’nt

Rule # 6

There are various approaches to plurals for abbreviations, single letters, and numerals.

Many writers and experts prefer an apostrophe after single capitalized letters.

Examples:

I made straight A’s.

With groups of two or more capital letters, apostrophes seem less necessary.

Examples:

  • There are two new MPs on the base.
  • He learned his ABCs.

Rule # 7

Single-digit numbers are usually spelled out, but when they aren’t, you are just as likely to see 2s and 3s as 2’s and 3’s. With double digits and above, many regard the apostrophe as superfluous:

Like, I scored in the high 90s.

There are different schools of thought about years and decades. The following examples are all in widespread use:

Examples:

  • the 1990s
  • the 1990’s
  • the ’90s
  • the 90’s
  • Awkward: the ’90’s

Rule # 8

Amounts of time or money are sometimes used as possessive adjectives that require apostrophes.

Examples:

  • Incorrect: three days leave

Correct: three days’ leave

  • Incorrect: my two cents worth

Correct: my two cents’ worth

Rule # 9

Personal pronouns, unlike regular nouns, do not use apostrophes to form possessives. Most writers don’t have trouble with the possessive pronouns my, mine, his, her, and our.  It’s your, yours, hers, its, ours, their, and theirs, that tend to cause the confusion. The relative possessive pronoun whose is also frequently the victim of apostrophe abuse. Note that none of these forms uses an apostrophe. In fact, for some of these pronouns, adding an apostrophe forms a contraction instead of a possessive.

Have a look at the following chart:

Pronoun Possessive Pronoun Absolute (Independent) Form
Me My Mine
You Your Yours
He His His
She Her Hers
It Its
We Our Ours
Them Their Theirs
Who Whose

 

Examples:

  • Incorrect: Who’s glasses are these?

Correct: Whose glasses are these?

  • Incorrect: Talking to one’s self in public is odd.

Correct: Talking to oneself in public is odd.

It's own

What do you do with the apostrophe when you are talking about things that belong to more than one person?

When one thing belongs to two or more people, make only the final name possessive i.e. called Joint possession.

Examples:

  • Bob and Jim’s bait shop (Bob and Jim co-own the same bait shop)
  • Ryan, Jessica, and Elinor’s parents (All three share the same parents)

When you are talking about separate things that belong to different people, make all the names possessive:

Examples:

  • Bob’s and Jim’s bait shops (Bob owns one bait shop and Jim owns a different one)
  • Ryan’s, Jessica’s, and Elinor’s parents (Each has a different set of parents)

Rule # 10

When an apostrophe comes before a word or number, take care that it’s truly an apostrophe (’) rather than a single quotation mark (‘).

Examples:

  • Incorrect: ‘Twas the night before Christmas.

Correct: ’Twas the night before Christmas.

  • Incorrect: I voted in ‘08.

Correct: I voted in ’08

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