There are two main uses for apostrophes in writing. The first, in contractions (such as they’re, don’t, and can’t).
The second, to signify possession of something or someone. Apostrophes have two formats, either before or after s.
Often, people don’t like to take the time to learn grammar and mechanic rules. This is in large part because even when you take the time to read the rules, it can still be confusing!
Unfortunately, when we don’t take the time to learn these rules, our writing can suffer.
We want to make sure that our readers are not spending time decoding what you’re trying to say instead of reading your thoughts.
This is particularly important for students as they pursue high-stakes standardized tests such as the ACT.
When a teacher reads a student’s writing, they can hear the student speak. This can account for a large part of unclear writing.
When students write for the ACT, a random assessor is going to read the writing. They will have no idea what the student looks like, how they talk, and any unclear writing will simply result in a deduction from the final assessment score.
The Importance of Correctly Using Apostrophes
Whether you are writing an essay for school, a letter to an editor, or an email to a coworker, using correct mechanics is key to conveying your thoughts. One rule that trips many people up is how to use an apostrophe correctly.
When you forget to add an apostrophe to a contraction, most readers will still understand your intention. However, if you forget to add an ‘s to a noun, people may be unsure of your meaning.
This rule can feel even more complicated when a word ends with an s. Using apostrophes after s can and should be done when writing.
As mentioned before, if being an eloquent and compelling writer is the goal, then understanding the rules of the apostrophe will help in the journey.
This guide will walk you through the rules and applications of using apostrophes to signify possession.
When to Put the Apostrophe Before the S
Singular possession, in everyday English means, one thing possesses it. For example, Sean’s Prius, Sean owns the Prius, so it is under his possession.
What About Singular Words That End in S?
Great question! Many singular words end in s, but most commonly, you will find this issue when dealing with last names.
Jones, Peters, Matthews, even my last name, Faris, fall into this category.
What happens when you are trying to show singular possession with a word that ends with s? There are two ways to tackle this dilemma.
The first, simply add an apostrophe s.
Serena Williams’s smashed tennis racket sold for $21,000 at auction.
Or, drop the s after the apostrophe and just leave the punctuation mark.
Serena Williams’ smashed tennis racket sold for $21,000 at auction.
Either of these solutions is correct, but it is important to use one consistently throughout your writing.
When to Put the Apostrophe After S
There will be times when you will need to put the apostrophe after s. When a word is showing possession and ends with the letter –s, an apostrophe should be added after the s.
There are many variations to using apostrophes after s. It is important to understand the basics of each of these rules to correctly use the apostrophe after s.
Many sloths lounged lazily in the trees. The sloths’ claws slowly grabbed at the leaves to munch on.
The plural noun sloths already had an –s at the end of the word. Since the claws belong to each sloth, those also needed to be plural.
A Guide to Apostrophes After S
For nouns that end in –s (like class, Des Moines, and bus)
For nouns that end in –s, an easy trick is to practice reading the word, including the incorrect apostrophe.
For example, the octopus’ tentacles suctioned to the window where the children were standing. When you read that example, you naturally read it as “octopuses.”
If you wrote it “octopus’s,” you might read it as “octopuseses,” which we know is incorrect.
This trick can usually help you hear if you are using the apostrophe correctly, but in most situations, if you see a noun that ends in -s, it should set off an alarm in your head that the apostrophe needs to be after the s.
Des Moines’ drive-in movie theaters are the best in the midwest.
For nouns that are made plural by adding an –s
Many nouns only become plural after adding an –s. These words, like girls, kids, and computers, should be treated the same as above.
Read the sentence, The kids toys beeped and lit up when they turned them on. If you add the apostrophe before the s, it will read as, kid’s, or one kid.
If there is more than one kid, it write it out as kids’.
When you are dealing with plural forms of words, try adding the apostrophe before the s to see if it is singular.
Guys night to Guy’s Night to Guys’ Night all have different meanings based on where the apostrophe sits. If a man named Guy is hanging out alone, then Guy’s is the correct form. If the men own the night or have possession of some part of the evening, stick with Guys’.
What About Last Names That End in S?
If you are visiting the Smith’s house for dinner, then you would simply use an apostrophe before the s.
What if you are going to dinner at your friend, Allie Chrises’ house?
When showing possession to a proper name, you must add an –es first to make it plural. Then to indicate possession, you would add an apostrophe after s.
Note: Never use an apostrophe in the middle of the proper name. For our example above, writing the Chris’s house is incorrect.
As mentioned, there are about 15 different rules about when you can and can’t use apostrophes. Since this guide’s primary focus is around using apostrophes after s, there are additional rules that you should note to use the pesky apostrophe correctly.
If you are ever unsure of when you should (or shouldn’t) use an apostrophe, consult a
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When To Drop the Apostrophe All Together
There are a few opportunities when you shouldn’t use an apostrophe at all.
This guide has touched on many of these instances already, but for clarity’s sake, here is a quick list of when you should drop the apostrophe:
When words are going from singular to plural
For example, there are two kittens in the garage. Kittens, in this example, is plural (since there is more than one cat), but the –s is not showing possession of the garage.
When You Abbreviate Numbers
This specifically applies to when you are writing about numbers.
I can’t believe the golfer shot in the 70s, and he usually spends his whole day in the sand! Since there is no possession, there shouldn’t be an apostrophe.
This also applies to how to reference years.
1990’s should read the 1990s, and when talking about the groovy fashions of the 60’s, just say ’60s.
Finally, a Note About Contractions
A contraction shortens a set of words into a small bite-sized word. Cannot turns into can’t, You all turns into y’all, and they are turns into they’re.
All of these examples rely on the apostrophe to be a contraction. The same rule applies to it is (it’s). The –‘s serves as an indication that you are trying to say “it is” or “it has.”
It’s been a long day; I think I’m going to head to bed.
If you want to show possession of something, you must drop the apostrophe.
My day was long; I’m heading to bed, its blanket is calling to me.
In this example, the possession goes to the bed and its fluffy, soft blanket.
Learning the grammar and mechanics of the English language can often feel like learning a foreign language.
The perfect recipe for becoming a good writer is a mix of learning the rules and practicing. When you practice, receive feedback, and correct, your writing will naturally get better.
For some, this can be an intimidating and frustrating process.
People don’t like to feel vulnerable. Putting ourselves out there for criticism can be scary, and many students simply choose not to do it.
Apostrophes come with its own rulebook complete with no less thanyou can and can’t use them.
When using the apostrophe after s, it is important to understand the rules around making a noun possessive.
When you understand possession, then you will be able to use apostrophes after s more confidently.