Punctuation For Beginners: All About Apostrophes

Punctuation For Beginners: All About Apostrophes


Writers Write is a writing resource. Continuing our series on punctuation, this post is all about apostrophes.

Welcome to the eleventh post in the series: Punctuation For Beginners.

We’ve discussed what punctuation is and why we need it. (Look out for the punctuation posts. Sign up for our newsletter to get our Daily Writing Links, and you won’t miss out.)

Today, I will be writing about The Apostrophe.

What are apostrophes?

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark (‘) that is used to indicate either possession (Sam’s car; girls’ hats) or the omission of letters or numbers (won’t; she’s; 22 Feb. ’89).

1. Use Apostrophes To Indicate Possession

Use an apostrophe to show that a thing or person belongs or relates to someone or something.

Example: Instead of saying ‘the storm of yesterday’, we can write ‘yesterday’s storm’.

How to use the possessive apostrophe:

  1. With singular nouns or most personal names. Add an apostrophe plus s. Example: They met at Tom’s party.
  2. With personal names that end in s. Add an apostrophe plus s if you pronounce an extra s when you say the word out loud. Example: Thomas’s mother left. (Exceptions to this rule occur, especially in names of places or organisations. Example: St Thomas’ Hospital)  Tip: If you aren’t sure about how to spell a name, look it up.
  3. With personal names that end in s but are not pronounced with an extra s. Add an apostrophe after the s. Example: The judge dismissed the Peters’ appeal.
  4. With a plural noun that already ends in s. Add an apostrophe after the s. Example: The old house was converted into a boys’ school.
  5. With a plural noun that doesn’t end in s. Add an apostrophe plus s. Example: The children’s mother lives in Cape Town.

Note: We do not need an apostrophe with the possessive pronouns: his, hers, ours, yours, theirs (meaning ‘belonging to him, her, us, you, or them’).

2. Use Apostrophes To Indicate Omission

An apostrophe can be used to show that letters or numbers have been omitted. These are also known as contractions.

Here are some examples:

  1. you’re – short for you are
  2. she’ll – short for she will
  3. he’d – short for he had or he would
  4. it’s cold – short for it is cold
  5. o’clock – short for of the clock
  6. ’tis – short for it is
  7. Cash ’n Carry– short for Cash and Carry

Contractions are considered informal, and should not be used in official business documents, contracts, theses and dissertations, formal letters, CVs, forms or applications.

However, you should use contractions in fiction and in most copywriting.

Commonly Confused: It’s Or Its?

its (without an apostrophe) means ‘belonging to it

Examples:

  • The cat cleaned its ears.
  • Each project is judged on its presentation.

it’s (with an apostrophe) means ‘it is’ or ‘it has

Examples:

  • It’s hot in December.
  • It’s a new phone and it’s got some interesting features.

Apostrophes And Plurals

The general rule is that we should not use an apostrophe to form the plurals of nouns, abbreviations, or dates made up of numbers: just add s (or -es, if the noun in question forms its plural with ‘es’).

For example:

It’s important to remember this rule. An apostrophe should never be used to form the plural of ordinary nouns, names, abbreviations, or numerical dates.

Exceptions

  1. You can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters. Example: I have dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.
  2. You can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers. Example: Look for the number 9’s.

These are the only cases in which it is considered acceptable to use an apostrophe to form plurals.

Use this infographic to help you with apostrophes: The Ultimate Apostrophe Flowchart For Writers

Learn how to write for business. Join us for The Plain Language Programme

 by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. Punctuation For Beginners: All About The Bullet Point
  2. Punctuation For Beginners: All About The Ellipsis
  3. Punctuation For Beginners: All About Inverted Commas
  4. Punctuation For Beginners: All About Brackets
  5. Punctuation For Beginners: All About Hyphens & Em Dashes
  6. Punctuation For Beginners: All About Colons & Semicolons
  7. Punctuation For Beginners: All About Question & Exclamation Marks
  8. Punctuation For Beginners: All About Commas
  9. Punctuation For Beginners: All About Full Stops
  10. Punctuation For Beginners: What Is Punctuation?