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Proper Use of Apostrophes

Apostrophe placement can be almost as confounding as knowing when to use them. "Proper Use of Apostrophes" is an apostrophe refresher for those of us who need a convenient reference to look back at.

By Joan Whetzel

Apostrophes. Another one of those English grammar tools that always seems to give people trouble. The biggest problem occurs in trying to decide when an apostrophe is needed. The instances where apostrophe problems show up include: contractions, pluralization, and possession.




This is probably the easiest to explain and the least likely to cause problems for people. Use apostrophes to show omitted letters when joining two words together. Examples: do not/don’t; are not/aren’t; must not/ mustn’t, it is/it’s. Also use apostrophes to show omitted letters in shortened words. Examples: rock n’ roll, ’til,  ne’er-do-well.



No apostrophes are necessary for plural words. This is one of the areas where apostrophes give people problems. To form plural words, simply add an “s” to the end of the word – with a few exceptions. For some words ending in “o” like tomato or potato, add “-es” to the end to create tomatoes and potatoes. Other words may simply have the “s’ attached (moos, zoos). For words ending in “y”, change the “y” to “i” and add “s.” Example: hippy/hippies; puppy/puppies; gummy/gummies. For words ending in “ch” or “sh”, add “es” to the end of the word. Examples: Grinch/ Grinches, dish/dishes, ditch/ditches, wish/wishes. Take note: The plural word for it is not it’s; this is a contraction for it is. The plural for it is either they or them.



This is the other area that gives people the most problems. Form the possession of a single noun by adding an apostrophe “s” to the end of the word. Examples: the cat’s meow; bells (plural) on Bob’s (possession) tail; the boy’s balloons. The apostrophe in this instance shows what the single noun possesses – the cat possesses her meow, Bob possesses his tail (and presumably the bells on it), and the boy is in possession of his balloons.


Form the possession of a plural noun ending in “s” by adding the apostrophe after the “s” at the end of the word. Examples: the witches’ potions; the churches’ steeples; the rockets’ red glare. The apostrophe in this instance shows that a group of people or things are in possession of similar items. Each witch has some potions, each church has a steeple, and each of the rockets has a red glare as it explodes.


There is an exception to the possession rule. The possession of “it” does not require an apostrophe. “It’s” is the contraction for it is. The correct possessive from of “it” is “its.”



Contractions and possessions are the only areas where apostrophes are used correctly. The apostrophe is never used with plurals except with plural possessives, which isn’t really showing plurality but possession.

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