Apostrophe Rules Explained

10 min read
Apostrophe Rules Explained
Apostrophes are small punctuation marks that can lead to some big problems if you place them incorrectly. According to
, the role of the apostrophe has changed over time. To make matters more complicated, learning to use apostrophes can be confusing and tricky. For this reason, we are here to help you understand how you can use apostrophes.

Uses of Apostrophes

Apostrophes can serve two purposes in English writing. They can form possessives as well as contractions. Possessive words indicate possession, while contractions reveal that a few letters have been removed to form a new word using two different words.

Boost your score apostrophe

Apostrophe Rules for Possessive Nouns

Possessives would be impossible to form without the use of apostrophes. However, they are also the reason apostrophes seem to be so confusing. The rules for forming a possessive with the help of an apostrophe can greatly vary according to the type of noun.

Here’s a look at three different uses of the apostrophe with possessive nouns.

1. Using an Apostrophe with a Singular Noun to Show Ownership of Belongingness

apostrophe rules

Use an apostrophe to convey that a single person or thing owns or is a member of another thing. In such a case, an apostrophe is used along with the letter s (‘s).

For example Sarah’s ballet dress, the man’s hat, a car’s windscreen.

Remember, you do not need to be confused when a name ends with an S. You can still add ‘s after a proper noun to indicate possessiveness. Similarly, you can also just add an apostrophe after a noun ending with an S. Either way, it is acceptable.

For example: Holmes car, –Holmes’s car

2. Using an Apostrophe with Plural Nouns That End with an S to Show Possession

apostrophe rules with names

You do not need to add another s to a plural noun that is already ending with an S. It is quite unnecessary, so consider skipping it and only adding an apostrophe to show possessiveness.

For example: The employees request, The Adams house

3. Using an Apostrophe with Plural Nouns That Don’t End with an S to Show Possession

last name apostrophe rules

To turn a plural noun that does not end with an S into a possessive, you need to add an apostrophe along with an S (‘s).

For example: The children’s toys, his teeths color

Remember, any noun needs to have an apostrophe and an s to become a possessive noun. If a plural noun already has an s, you can skip an additional one and add just the apostrophe. If it doesn’t have an s, you will need to add both the apostrophe and the s.

Boost your score apostrophe2

4. Using an Apostrophe with a Singular Proper Noun That Ends with an S

plural apostrophe rules

There are various style guides that you can choose from when you need to turn a singular pronoun ending with an S into a possessive pronoun. You can go for adding only an apostrophe.

For example: Brussels historic culture, the Dickens daughters

Or, another way to deal with such a situation is to add an apostrophe with an S following it.

For example: Brussels’s historic culture, the Dickens’s daughters

You can use any of the above ways to add an apostrophe to singular proper nouns ending with S. However, make sure you strictly follow a single method for the same document or writing.

5. Using an Apostrophe for Proper Nouns That Are Already Possessive

its apostrophe rules

Some proper nouns are already in possessive form. So, what should you do in such a situation? The basic rule of thumb for such a situation is to leave the noun as it is.

For example: McDonald’s menu

Use of Apostrophes vs. Possessive Pronouns

For a reminder, possessive pronouns include his, her, mine, and our, etc. However, some possessive pronouns like yours, theirs, hers, and ours can cause confusion. This is mostly because these possessive pronouns are possessives without the use of an apostrophe. In fact, adding an apostrophe to some of these types of possessive pronouns can result in the formation of contractions.

Apostrophe Rules for Joint Possessives

Trying to show that two people have ownership over something can be quite challenging. You may be confused about whether you should make both the pronouns or just the final one possessive. It can really just depend on the type of ownership.

Shared Possession

If two people are equal owners of the same thing, you can add an apostrophe and an S to the latter one’s name. For example:

  • Jessica and Elaine’s car (Here, both Jessica and Elaine equally own the same car).
  • Tim, Dave, and Dylan’s parents (Here, all three people share the same parents).

Separate Possession

In case different people own different versions of the same type of items, turn all the names into possessives. For example:

  • Jessica’s and Elaine’s cars (In this case, they are both owners to separate cars).
  • Tim’s, Dave’s, and Dylan’s parents (This gives the impression that all 3 share a different set of parents).
Boost your score apostrophe3

Possessive Personal Nouns

It can sound quite weird when you try to show joint possessiveness for possessive personal pronouns. Here is an example to help you understand:

  • She has his and mine prayers with her.

While this can’t be grammatically incorrect, it is best to rephrase such sentences. For example:

  • She has our prayers with her.
  • She has his prayers and mine with her.

Apostrophe Rules for Contractions

Contractions are a shortened form of one or more than one word. These are formed by deleting certain letters. Their relationship with apostrophes is that apostrophes replace the words that are missing. The apostrophe rule for contractions is not as confusing but rather quite simple.

Replacing Missing Letters with an Apostrophe

possession apostrophe rules

You cannot form contractions if it’s not for the help of apostrophes. When you try to combine two words into a single word, you are required to take out some letters. However, that empty space cannot be left as it is but rather needs some kind of replacement.

This is where apostrophes come in handy. We add apostrophes in the places of missing letters to fill the empty space. For example:

  • He + would= He’d
  • They + have= They’ve
  • She + will= She’ll
  • She + is= She’s
  • It + is= It’s

The second last example can be used as a way to say what someone is doing in the present, such as ‘she’s cooking,’ and can also be used to describe a person with an adjective, such as ‘he’s tired.’

Similarly, the last example, which shows how to contract ‘it’ and ‘is,’ can be used where the pronoun ‘it’ is used to describe something or a situation. For example, ‘it’s a great desk,’ or ‘it’s hot outside.’

While the use of apostrophes in contractions is quite simple, there are still a few things you will need to take care of. Contractions are rather considered an informal language tool and may not be acceptable in very formally written documents.

On the other hand, there are some contractions that are rarely ever used in their un-contracted forms. For instance, ‘of the clock’ is contracted to o’clock. You will hardly ever find this example not being used as a contraction.

Some Other Exceptional Apostrophe Rules

plural nouns ending in s examples

Apostrophes with Single Letters

It is a basic recommendation to use an apostrophe and an S for single letters that need to be used as plurals.

For example: Remember to dot all your i’s.

Apostrophes for Forming Plurals That Are Not Nouns

Sometimes you may need to add an apostrophe just for clarity. This is in the case when you need to form a plural out of a word that is not a noun.

For example: Do’s and don’ts

Apostrophes for Time or Money

In some cases, you may need to use time or money as a possessive adjective. Here, you may need to add an apostrophe. This is how you can do it:

For example: five days leave

Apostrophes before a Number or Word

Oftentimes, apostrophes are used before numbers and words.

For example: He was elected in 07.

Apostrophes with it

The word ‘it’s’ is a contraction for ‘it is’ the same way ‘can’t’ is a contraction for ‘cannot.’ On the other hand, you can use ‘its’ when you want to show possession.


In English punctuation, apostrophes are confusing to use, especially when you have to wonder where to add an ‘s’ or not. This is because there are numerous rules associated with their usage. Not to mention, they come with various exceptions. Fortunately, you can always get better with practice.

That means reading more to see how apostrophes are used, or if you’re trying to teach a child, opting for learning materials that can help. With practice, you’ll eventually get the hang of how the punctuation is used, as well as any exceptions that you must keep in mind.