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The Apostrophe

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The Apostrophe has two important jobs: it shows possession, or ownership, and it stands in for letters that have been removed from words when a contraction is made. It's important to know how to use the apostrophe correctly. People make mistakes all the time!

Rules for using the Apostrophe

Rule 1: Use an apostrophe to show that someone or something owns something (possession).

If something belongs to a singular noun that does not end in "s," use an apostrophe before an "s" plus the letter "s" after the noun when writing about it:

  • The dog's collar was blue.
(singular noun not ending in "s" - 's)
  • My teacher's jacket was on the hook.
(singular noun not ending in "s" - 's)
  • David's mother bakes delicious cookies.
(singular noun not ending in "s" - 's)

If something belongs to a singular noun that ends in "s" (boss), use an apostrophe plus the letter "s" after the noun:

  • That is my boss's office.
(singular noun ending in "s" - 's)
  • Mr. Jones's car is parked under the tree.
(singular noun ending in "s" - 's)

Exception: Do not add "s" after the apostrophe for the singular nouns ending in "s" if their end sound is "iz" or "ziz."

For instance, "Jesus(iz) teachings," or "Sophocles(iz) philosophy" would fall into this category.

Therefore, we write:

  • Jesus' teachings
(singular noun ending in "s" - s')
  • Sophocles' philosophy
(singular noun ending in "s" - s')

If something belongs to a plural noun that does not end in "s" (men), use an apostrophe before an "s" plus the letter "s" after the noun:

  • The children's books were on the shelf.
(plural noun not ending in "s" - 's)
  • The men's room is over there.
(plural noun not ending in "s" - 's)
  • The geese's flight was long.
(plural noun not ending in "s" - 's)

If something belongs to a plural noun that ends in "s" (horses), simply add the apostrophe after the final "s":

  • The horses' saddles were made of leather.
(plural noun ending in "s" - s')
  • The students' homework was on time.
(plural noun ending in "s" - s')
  • My parents' room is upstairs.
(plural noun ending in "s" - s')

If something belongs to a compound noun, add an apostrophe plus "s" at the end of the word.

  • Her sister-in-law's husband is a doctor.
(singular compound noun - 's)
  • Maids of honor's dresses were of pink color.
(plural compound noun - 's)

If two people own same thing, put the apostrophe plus "s" after the second name only.

  • Edward and Jacob's house is very pretty.
(The house belongs to both "Edward" and "Jacob" - put 's after the second name)

If two people own the separate things, put the apostrophe plus "s" after both names.

  • Edward's and Jacob's houses are both pretty.
(Both "Edward" and "Jacob" own separate houses - put 's after both the names)

Rule 2: Use an apostrophe to take the place of the letters you have removed when you join two words in a contraction.

  • I should not go to the movies today. I shouldn't go to the movies today.
(Remove the "o," use an apostrophe)
  • He did not eat his pancakes.
    He didn't eat his pancakes.
(Remove the "o," use an apostrophe)
  • Abby was not enjoying the game. Abby wasn't enjoying the game.
(Remove the "o," use an apostrophe)

Rule 3: To make numbers and letters plural, use an apostrophe with an "s."

  • My dad grew up in the 60's.
(Plural of 60 - use an apostrophe)
  • I spell my name with two t's.
(More than one "t" - use an apostrophe)
  • I wrote ten m's to practice my writing.
(More than one "m" - use an apostrophe)

Rule 4: When two digits of a year are dropped, use an apostrophe to take their place.

  • My brother was born in '99.
(1999 shortened to '99 - use an apostrophe)
  • "The Summer of '69" was a popular song.
(1969 shortened to '69 - use an apostrophe)
  • I am a member of the Class of '16.
(2016 shortened to '16 - use an apostrophe)

Rule 5: Do NOT use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns. The only exception to this rule is one's.

  • That book is hers.
(Hers is a possessive pronoun - no apostrophe)
  • The new car was theirs.
(Theirs is a possessive pronoun - no apostrophe)
  • One should use one's own crayons.
(Apostrophe is always used with possessive pronoun - one's)

Rule 6: Do NOT use an apostrophe in the plural of a name to make a singular name plural. Simply add "s" to make it plural.

  • The Smiths came to the house this afternoon.
(More than one Smith, just add "s")
  • The Harrisons threw a party.
(More than one Harrison, just add "s")
Summary

The handy chart below helps remember the rules and uses of the apostrophe.

NAME Punctuation
Mark
USAGE EXAMPLE
Apostrophe '
  • Used to show possession or form a contraction.

  • Used to make numbers and letters plural.

  • Used when two digits of a year are dropped.

  • Do NOT use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns. The only exception to this rule is one's.

  • Do NOT use an apostrophe to make a singular name plural. Simply add "s" to make it plural.
  • The girl's bike was in the garage.
  • I can't come to school because I'm sick.

  • My dad grew up in the 60's.

  • My brother was born in '99.

  • That book is hers.
  • One should use one's own crayons.

  • The Smiths came to the house this afternoon.

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