How to use the Apostrophe in the English Language

Rules and Examples


Punctuation marksThe apostrophe is a form of punctuation in the English language. It looks like a comma ( , ) but appears at the top ( ' ) of words instead of the bottom.

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The apostrophe has two main uses.

We use the apostrophe to:

1. Indicate possession (ownership) by a noun.

2. Represent missing letters in a contraction.


Forming possessives of nouns

A noun is a person, place or thing. Nouns can be singular (meaning one) or plural (meaning more than one).

Examples:

PictureSingular Plural
Girlgirl girls
cakecake cakes
treetrees
Catcatcats
camelcamels
dogdogs
shoeshoes
busbuses
toothteeth
goosegeese
Womanwomanwomen
Sheepsheepsheep

Use an apostrophe with an "s" after a singular noun to show ownership of the object by that noun ('s). Do this for all singular nouns, even if they end in an s.

Examples:

  • dog's house => the house of the dog

  • Tom's bike => the bike belongs to Tom

  • Mr. Smith's car => Mr. Smith owns the car

  • the teacher's desk => the desk of the teacher

  • the boy's hat => the hat belongs to the boy

  • Steve's dog => the dog belongs to Steve


To show plural possession, make the noun plural and add an apostrophe. Some words will require an apostrophe plus an "s". Others will only need an apostrophe.

If the plural noun ends in an "s", put an apostrophe at the end of the word. Do not add another "s".

Examples:

  • the members of two churches => the churches' members

  • the hats of three boys => the boys' hats

  • the bikes at two stores => the stores' bikes

If the plural form of the noun does not end in an "s", add an apostrophe with an "s" at the end of the word.

Examples:

  • the toys of two children => the children's toys

  • the wings of ten geese => the geese's wings

Using an apostrophe to show missing letters or numbers

We also use apostrophes in place of missing letters in contractions or shortened forms of words or numbers.

A contraction is when you combine two words to make one shorter word. Use an apostrophe in place of the removed letters.

Examples:

  • cannot => can't

  • is not => isn't

  • have not => haven't

  • should have => should've

Use an apostrophe to show missing numbers in a shortened date.

Examples:

  • 1960 => '60

  • 1998 => '98


Tips for using an apostrophe

Do not use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns. Possessive pronouns already show possession. His, hers, its, mine, yours and ours are all examples of possessive pronouns.
  • Incorrect: his' book
  • Correct: his book
  • Incorrect: The car is our's.
  • Correct: The car is ours.
  • Incorrect: it's foot
  • Correct: its foot

Do not use apostrophes with all plural nouns that end in "s". Only use an apostrophe if it is needed to show ownership.
  • Incorrect: I got some book's at the library.
  • Correct:  I got some books at the library.
  • Incorrect: I got some book's at the library.
  • Correct:  I got some books at the library.
  • Incorrect: I have two dog's at my house.
  • Correct: I have two dogs at my house.

In conclusion, remember the two main uses for the apostrophe are with a noun to show ownership and in contractions to show missing letters.


These were the uses of the Apostrophe in the English Language. Now that you know them, it is time to practice! Read and do exercises.

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