Apostrophes by Professor Jill Mackey

The apostrophe has a few specific and important uses:

  • To indicate possession
  • To form contractions

Use an Apostrophe to Indicate Possession

Possession occurs when a noun shows a possessor and a noun shows the thing or person possessed.

Possessor

Thing or person possessed

Possession

woman

son

the woman’s son

Juanita

shovel

Juanita’s shovel

child

bright smile

the child’s bright smile

You can tell that possession is going on if you can indicate it using the preposition of:

  • the son of the woman
  • the shovel of Juanita
  • the bright smile of the child

Is it apostrophe “s” or “s” apostrophe?  It depends:

To make a singular noun possessive, add an apostrophe plus an “s”:

singular noun

apostrophe

“s”

Sample Usage

baby

baby’s

the baby’s bottle

dog

dog’s

the dog’s bone

horse

horse’s

the horse’s stall

To make a plural noun possessive, add only an apostrophe to form the possessive case:

plural noun

apostrophe

Sample Usage

babies

babies’

the babies’ bottles

dogs

dogs’

the dogs’ bones

horses

horses’

the horses’ stalls

To make a collective noun possessive, add an apostrophe plus “s” to form the possessive:

collective noun

apostrophe

“s”

Sample Usage

men

men’s

the men’s room

women

women’s

the women’s room

children

children’s

the children’s toys

To make most indefinite pronouns possessive, add an apostrophe plus an “s”:

indefinite pronoun

apostrophe

“s”

anyone

anyone’s

everything

everything’s

no one

no one’s

Watch Out for Common Misuses of the Apostrophe

Never use an apostrophe to form a plural noun:

The teacher’s asked the girl’s and boy’s for their attention.  WRONG

The teachers asked the girls and boys for their attention.  RIGHT

Never use an apostrophe with “s” to form the present tense of a verb used with a third-person singular subject (he, she, it, or a singular noun):

A professional singer need’s to practice different vocal techniques.  WRONG

A professional singer needs to practice different vocal techniques.  RIGHT

Never use an apostrophe with the possessive pronouns:

That cat of our’s is always sleeping.  WRONG

That cat of ours is always sleeping.  RIGHT

The dog buried it’s bone.  WRONG

The dog buried its bone.  RIGHT

Use an apostrophe to form contractions

A contraction is a shortened word or group of words when some letters or sounds are omitted.  In a contraction, the apostrophe serves as a substitute for the omitted letters

word or group of words

contraction

we have

we’ve

you are

you’re

there is

there’s

who is or who has

who’s

In informal writing, apostrophes can also substitute for omitted numbers in a decade:

The nineties can be written the ‘90s.  When writing formal papers, it is better to spell out the words.