Punctuation

Apostrophes

The apostrophe (') is used in three ways:

  • To show possession (ownership)
  • To show plural forms
  • To show where a letter or number has been omitted

This is a snap in speech, but in writing it does present difficulties. This is especially true where the three different uses of the apostrophe overlap. The worst offenders are butchers who sell “pork chop's” or “hamburger's.” It's still another reason to become a grammarian or a vegetarian.

In the meantime, here are the rules for using apostrophes.

  1. Use an apostrophe to show possession.
    • With singular nouns not ending in s, add an apostrophe and s.
    • Examples: girl, girl's manuscript; student, student's ideas
    • With singular nouns ending in s, add an apostrophe and s.
    • Examples: Charles, Charles's book; hostess, hostess's menu
    • If the new word is hard to say, leave off the s. For example: James' book, Louis' menu. You won't get arrested by the grammar police for using your brain.
    • With plural nouns ending in s, add an apostrophe after the s.
    • Examples: girls, girls' manuscript; students, students' ideas
    • With plural nouns not ending in s, add an apostrophe and s.
    • Examples: women, women's books; mice, mice's tails
  2. Use an apostrophe to show plural forms.
    • Use an apostrophe and s to show the plural of a letter.
    You Could Look It Up

    Contractions are two words combined. When you contract words, add an apostrophe in the space where the letters have been taken out.

    Example: does + not = doesn't

    • Example: Mind your p's and q's.
    • Use an apostrophe and s to show the plural of a number.
    • Example: Computers will be even more important in the late 1990's.
    • Use an apostrophe and s to show the plural of a word referred to as a word.
    • Example: There are too many distracting like's and um's in her speech.
  3. Use an apostrophe to show where a letter or number has been omitted.
    • To show that letters have been left out of contractions.
    • Examples: can't, won't, I'll
    • To show that numbers have been left out of a date.
    • Examples: the '70s, the '90s
Danger, Will Robinson

Don't confuse contractions with possessive pronouns. Study this list.

Contraction Possessive Pronoun
it's (it is) its
you're (you are) your
they're (they are) their
who's (who is) whose

Once More, Dear Friends

Rewrite each phrase to use an apostrophe.

Example: the mood of my sister my sister's mood
1. the talents of Matt Damon ________________________________
2. the courage of the police officer ________________________________
3. the liberation of women ________________________________
4. the union of the steelworkers ________________________________
5. the books of Laurie Rozakis ________________________________
6. the wages of the waiters ________________________________

Answers

  1. Matt Damon's talents
  2. the police officer's courage
  3. women's liberation
  4. steelworkers' union
  5. Laurie Rozakis' books
  6. waiters' wages
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.