Grammar Tips: The Apostrophe In Depth

8 Jun

Apostrophes seem to give people a lot of trouble. While we already know that the comma is the #1 most difficult punctuation mark to master, the apostrophe is a close second! Whether it is knowing when to use it or how to use it properly, it is important to understand the apostrophe in depth in order to master it and all of its uses.

In our last post on apostrophes, Grammar Tips: Avoiding the Apostrophe Catastrophe, we learned that an apostrophe (‘) has a few different uses: indicating the removal of a letter (such as when forming contractions), illustrating possession, and occasionally when forming a plural noun. First, check out this video on the apostrophe catastrophe, and then we will review the common uses of an apostrophe.

Removing a Letter 

One of the simplest uses of the apostrophe is to remove a letter from a word. A common example of this occurs when constructing a contraction. When constructing a contraction, the apostrophe is inserted in place of the removed letters.

It is going to rain tomorrow. 

With this example, we can make “it is” into a contraction by replacing the second i with an apostrophe. (Note, in this particular example, we only want to use an apostrophe when we are using the contraction “it’s” to replace “it is”. Its is the possessive form of it and does not require an apostrophe.

It’s going to rain tomorrow. 

It is important to note that many argue against using contractions in formal writing. In informal writing, you can also use an apostrophe to indicate a year with only the last two digits preceded by an apostrophe (example: ’80s).

Illustrating Possession

Indicating possession is one of the most common ways to use an apostrophe. That said, the placement of the apostrophe depends on who or what is doing the possessing. The easiest way to break it down is by single possessors and multiple possessors. With a single possessor, the possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe and s, whether the singular noun ends in s or not.

the dog’s bone 

the Jones’s house 

While this is by and large the rule for single possessors, there are a few exceptions. Use only an apostrophe (no s) for places or names that are singular but have a final word in plural form that ends with an s.

Beverly Hills’ skyline 

the United States’ capitol 

With plural possessors, the possessive is formed by adding only an apostrophe when the noun ends in s, and by adding both an apostrophe and s when it ends in a letter other than s.

children’s toys 

the girls’ volleyball team 

It is also important to consider joint and individual possession. Joint possession is indicated by a single apostrophe for both possessors, while individual possession requires apostrophes for each possessor.

Michael and Ashley’s boat (joint possession)

China’s and Japan’s economies (individual possession)

Forming Plural Nouns 

The apostrophe is occasionally used to form plural nouns. This is one of the most common misuses of an apostrophe. An apostrophe should not be used to make every noun or verb plural; in fact, it is very rare that you will use an apostrophe to make anything plural! Many places where we may want to put an apostrophe do not need an apostrophe at all. For example:

Ever since the 1970’s, the Thomas’s have driven their car’s to the beach on Saturday’s (incorrect)

Ever since the 1970s, the Thomases have driven their cars to the beach on Saturdays (correct)

In the above example, it may be tempting to add an apostrophe to any of the situations (1970s, Thomases, cars, Saturdays), however, none of those words require an apostrophe. That said, the apostrophe is used to form some plural nouns. This happens when certain abbreviations, letters, or words are used as nouns. For example:

Michael received three A’s and B’s last semester. 

It’s always important to cross your t’s and dot your i’s. 

General Do’s and Don’ts 

  • Do use an apostrophe to indicate possession.
    • For example: That is John’s book
  • Do use an apostrophe to form a contraction.
    • For example: We can’t find the gym.
  • Do use an apostrophe to form the contraction “it’s”, but only if you are intending to say “it is”.
    • For example: It’s going to rain soon.
  • Do use an apostrophe with a possessive name ending in s.
    • For example: Charles’ cat.
  • Do not use an apostrophe to show something is plural.
    •  For example: The kittens were cute.
  • Do use an apostrope to show a single letter word is plural.
    • For example: There are two t’s in kitten.

Using apostrophes correctly can be a challenge! By keeping these rules in mind and practicing, you can master your use of the apostrophe. Are you ready to test your skills? Try them out with this quiz! If you have any questions regarding apostrophes or any other writing matter, please feel free to Schedule an Appointment in the Writing Center!

© Alyssa Ryan 


2 Responses to “Grammar Tips: The Apostrophe In Depth”


  1. National Punctuation Day | The Christ College Writing Center - September 24, 2015

    […] and symbols. Do not use apostrophes for possessive pronouns or noun plurals. Click the link learn more about apostrophes and avoiding the apostrophe […]

  2. Grammar Tips: Winter Review! | The Christ College Writing Center - December 9, 2015

    […] Apostrophes: In Depth […]

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