Apostrophes

An apostrophe (’) is a punctuation mark that is used with a noun to show possession or to indicate where a letter has been left out to form a contraction.

A common error is to use an apostrophe to create a plural. Apostrophes are never used to create plurals (although they can be involved with plurals when possessive). Examples:

Incorrect: Many doctor’s agree that it is unhealthy.

Correct: Many doctors agree that it is unhealthy.

Correct: He received three doctors’ opinions.

 

Possession

An apostrophe and the letter s indicate who or what owns something. To show possession with a singular noun, add ’s.

Jen’s dance routine mesmerized everyone in the room.

The dog’s leash is hanging on the hook beside the door.

Jess’s sister is also coming to the party.

Notice that singular nouns that end in s still take the apostrophe s (’s) ending to show possession. This applies especially to proper nouns that end in s.

Professor Woods’s classes

To show possession with a plural noun that ends in s, just add an apostrophe (’). If the plural noun does not end in s, add an apostrophe and an s (’s).

Plural noun that ends in s: The drummers sticks all moved in the same rhythm, like a machine.

Plural noun that does not end in s: The people’s votes clearly showed that no one supported the management decision.

Contractions

A contraction is a word that is formed by combining two words. In a contraction, an apostrophe shows where one or more letters have been left out. Contractions are commonly used in informal writing but not in formal writing.

I do not like ice cream.

I don’t like ice cream.

Notice how the words do and not have been combined to form the contraction don’t. The apostrophe shows where the o in not has been left out.

We will see you later.

We’ll see you later.

Look at the chart for some examples of commonly used contractions.

aren’t are not
can’t cannot
doesn’t does not
don’t do not
isn’t is not
he’ll he will
I’ll I will
she’ll she will
they’ll they will
you’ll you will
it’s it is, it has
let’s let us
she’s she is, she has
there’s there is, there has
who’s who is, who has

Tip

Be careful not to confuse it’s with its. It’s is a contraction of the words it and is. Its is a possessive pronoun.

It’s cold and rainy outside. (It is cold and rainy outside.)

The cat was chasing its tail. (Shows that the tail belongs to the cat.)

When in doubt, substitute the words it is in a sentence. If sentence still makes sense, use the contraction it’s.

Exercise 1

Correct the following sentences by adding apostrophes. If the sentence is correct as it is, write OK.

  1. “What a beautiful child! She has her mothers eyes.”
  2. My brothers wife is one of my best friends.
  3. I couldnt believe it when I found out that I got the job!
  4. My supervisors informed me that I wouldnt be able to take the days off.
  5. Each of the students responses were unique.
  6. Wont you please join me for dinner tonight?

 

Omission

Just as apostrophes are used in contractions to indicate that some letters are omitted (don’t omits the o in not), so too do they indicate omission in other circumstances.

An old-fashioned example can be seen in four o’clock, where the apostrophe indicates the omission of the phrase of the. So four o’clock fully means four of the clock.

A more common modern example is the omission of numerals when writing a year or decade. So if you’re discussing the decade of the 1980s, you could omit the first two numerals with an apostrophe and write the ’80s. Remember, as noted above, that apostrophes are never used to create plurals, so writing the 1980’s or the 80’s to mean the plural years is technically wrong in formal writing.

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The Writing Textbook by Josh Woods, editor and contributor, as well as an unnamed author (by request from the original publisher), and other authors named separately is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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