Grammar Rules

Learn When to Use an Apostrophe

How to use Apostrophes Correctly

Apostrophes are tiny, but they can cause big problems when they are used incorrectly. This basic guide is designed to help you learn how & when to use an apostrophe - the right way.

What is an Apostrophe?

We use the apostrophe to transform various words into plurals, contractions, and possessive forms. Without apostrophes, the English language would seem even more confusing. In a nutshell: there is logic

When to Use Apostrophes with Plural Forms

To make it is easier to remember when to use an apostrophe, keep in mind that most plurals do not contain apostrophes.
  • She wrote several novels during the 1990s.
  • There are twenty PhDs on staff.
  • My friends and I have similar IQs.
It is possible adding an apostrophe to single letters or digits, as in these examples:
  • There is 1 m, 4 i's, 4 s's and 2 p's in 'Mississippi'.
  • There are two 7's in 747.

Creating Contracted Verbs with Apostrophes

Contracted verbs are single words that have been formed from a subject and a verb. While contracted verbs might not always be acceptable for use in academic prose or in business writing, they can be extremely useful for personal communication and many other forms of writing. A few apostrophe examples below:
  • I am – I’m:  “I’m planning to write a book someday.”
  • You are – You’re:  “You’re going to have a lot of fun with your new puppy.”
  • She is – She’s:  “She’s always on time.”
  • It is – It’s: “I can’t believe it’s snowing again.”
  • Do not – Don’t: “I don’t like anchovies.”
  • He would – He’d: “He’d like to go fishing in Alaska.”
  • Let us – Let’s: “Let’s start saving more money each month.”
  • She would have – She would’ve: “If she would’ve paid attention in class, she would have passed.”
  • Who is – Who’s: “Who’s there?”
  • They had – They’d: “They weren’t hungry, because they’d already eaten.”
These are just some of the most common contracted verbs. Once you start looking for them, you’ll notice that there are many others. If you are taking a writing class, be sure to ask your instructor about his or her stance on using contractions before using them in work that will be graded.

The Carolers’ Carols and Shelly’s Shells: Using Apostrophes to Indicate Possession

Possessives might seem tricky, but memorizing three simple rules will prevent you from ever making a mistake when determining where to place the apostrophe.
  • When using a singular noun, the apostrophe is used before the s. For example: “The squirrel’s nuts were stashed in a hollow tree.”
  • When using a plural noun, the apostrophe goes after the s. For example: “The squirrels’ nuts were hidden in several hollow trees throughout the forest.”
  • When using a word that is pluralized without an s, add an s to the end of the word and place the apostrophe in front of it. For example: “Men’s feet are generally larger than women’s.”

Apostrophe Catastrophes: When Not to Use Apostrophes

While there are many ways in which apostrophes can be misused, some are much more common than others. Some examples follow.
  • Incorrect: “My brother has two son’s.”  Correct: “My brother has two sons.”
  • Incorrect: “Big wildcat’s roam freely.” Correct: “Big wildcats roam freely.”
In the first two examples, we’re discussing two or more “sons” and “wildcats” rather than items the sons or wildcats possess.
  • Incorrect: “The dog licked it’s chops.” Correct: “The dog licked its chops.”
In this example, we are discussing the dog licking its own chops. If you deconstruct the incorrect sentence, you’ll see that it reads “the dog licked it is chops,” which makes no sense. These are just a few examples of common mistakes. Check your work frequently to be certain that you’re not making similar errors. With practice, you will soon find it simple to use apostrophes appropriately.