Tip 3: Apostrophes
Apostrophes should be used for:
- Example: She isn’t (is not) here today.
2. Possessive forms of nouns and indefinite pronouns (when something is owned by someone)
- Example: John’s book is on the shelf.
- Example: Everyone’s opinion is important.
We often do not pronounce the possessive s of a few singular nouns ending in an s, a z , or an x sound; names with more than one s (Moses); names that sound like plurals (Rivers, Bridges); and nouns followed by a word beginning in an s.
- Example: Moses’ mother hid the baby in a basket.
- Example: Joan Rivers’ jokes are usually funny.
- Example: You are late again, for goodness’ sake!
Usage varies, and the final s isn’t wrong. Moses's is acceptable.
Until recently apostrophes were used to form the plurals of abbreviations ( MA’s), dates (1980's), and words or characters named as words (if’s, and’s, and but’s). Most current texts do not recommend the apostrophe in these cases.
He earned two MAs in the 1980s.
My phone number has three 3s [or 3s].
You used too many ands [or ands] in you speech.
Note: Underline or italicize a word or a character named as a word, but do not underline or italicize the added s.
Suggestion: Use an apostrophe to indicate a plural only rarely to avoid confusion.
Checking for Apostrophe Errors
An apostrophe will always be placed either before or after an s at the end of a “noun owner.”
- Example: The dog’s collar was too tight. (one dog)
- Example: The three dogs’ collars were too tight. (three dogs)
The “noun owner” will always be followed by what it owns.
- Example: The dog’s collar was too tight.
- Example: The three dogs’ collars were too tight.
To make nouns possessive, first, determine the owner. In these examples, the owner
is dog or dogs.
Next, if the “noun owner” is singular, place an apostrophe and an s at the end of the noun.
If the “noun owner” is plural, place the apostrophe at the end of the noun. If the plural noun ends in s, do not add another s.
Some plural nouns do not end in s. To form the possessive of plural nouns that do not end in s, add an apostrophe and an s at the end of the noun.
- men----men’s (not mens’)
- children—children’s (not childrens')
- mice---mice’s (not mices’)
Some pronouns form their possessive by adding an apostrophe and an s at the end of the pronoun.
Personal pronouns do not add an apostrophe to form the possessive.
- your or yours (not your's)
- hers (not her’s)
- ours (not our’s)
- its (not it’s)
Most of these personal pronouns do not cause problems, but some writers incorrectly write it’s to show the possessive of it.
- Incorrect: The dog lost it’s collar.
Note: It’s always means it is or it has. Its is the possessive pronoun. The construction its’ does not exist.
Be careful with compound nouns that are hyphenated. To make a compound noun possessive, add an apostrophe or apostrophe and s to the last word in the compound.
- Example: The possessive of brother-in-law is brother-in-law’s, but the plural of brother-in-law is brothers-in-law. (For those of you who are curious, the plural possessive is brothers-in-law’s.)
To show joint ownership by two people, add an apostrophe or apostrophe and s to the second noun of the pair.
- Example: Bob left his mother and father’s house to go to college.
If the two members of a noun pair possess a set of things individually, add an apostrophe or apostrophe s to each noun.
- Example: Bob’s and Bill’s cars were stolen last week.
Apostrophes should not be used to form plurals (more than one).
- Incorrect: The girls’ giggled loudly.
- Correct: The girls giggled loudly.
Apostrophes should not be used with verbs that end in s.
- Incorrect: He sing’s in the choir.
- Correct: He sings in the choir.
- Incorrect: He go’s to Methodist University.
- Correct: He goes to Methodist University.
Note: Perhaps the most controversial and confusing use of apostrophe is with singular nouns that end in an s, an x, or a z. There are two options for forming the possessive if a singular noun ends in these letters. One option is to add an apostrophe after the s. The other option is to add apostrophe and s. Some guides suggest that if a new syllable is formed in the pronunciation of the possessive, writers should add an apostrophe plus s.
- Example: Phoenix’s business district is thriving.
If the addition of an extra syllable would make a word ending in an s difficult to pronounce, writers should add only the apostrophe.
- Example: New Orleans’ restaurants are the best in the world.
When forming the possessive of any noun ending in an s, always place the apostrophe at the end of the original word.
- Incorrect: Keat’s odes are the most beautiful of all English poetry.
- Correct: Keats’s odes are the most beautiful of all English poetry.
- Correct: Keats' odes are the most beautiful of all English poetry.
Usage varies widely, and standard texts offer many suggestions.
Remember, English is a living language, and one of its beauties is that it is always changing.