When to Use Apostrophes — Uses and Examples

The apostrophe is a punctuation mark that can trip us up occasionally. Perhaps you’ve had to write out a word that ends in an S, and you’ve been unsure if you should put an apostrophe in there. 

Generally, only use an apostrophe if you have a possessive or a contraction. Do not use apostrophes to form plurals of words. 

Of course, there are always exceptions, and we use apostrophes for the plurals of numbers and letters. We’ll discuss that below.

In this article, we’ll cover the uses of the apostrophe and how to avoid apostrophe mistakes.

What Is an Apostrophe?

The apostrophe is one of many punctuation marks, signs, and symbols we use in writing, in addition to letters, such as periods, commas, and quotation marks.

It looks like a comma, a small curved shape, but unlike a comma, which goes on the bottom of the writing line — down here — apostrophes go up on the top of the writing line — up here.

When to Use Apostrophes

The apostrophe has three uses: to show possession, to show the omission of letters (contractions), and to form plurals of letters, numbers, and symbols

The apostrophe is not used to form plurals of words.

To Show Possession

The apostrophe is used to show possession, ownership, or belonging, as in the phrases below:

  • Mary’s car
  • Jack’s orchard
  • The book’s pages

In these examples, we add ’s to the singular nouns Mary, Jack, and book.

For names that end in s, it can be correct to add ’s or just an apostrophe, depending on the style guide. For example

  • CORRECT: James’s watch
  • ALSO CORRECT: James’ watch

Be sure to consult your style guide.

To form the possessive of plurals, we have a couple of options. 

If the plural is irregular — that is, it does not end in s — add ’s:

  • Children’s store
  • Men’s clothing

If the plural ends in s, simply add an apostrophe:

  • Three friends’ drinks
  • All the farmers’ tractors
  • The dogs’ snouts

To show possession by a pair or group, simply add ’s to the last item. For example:

  • Ben and Joan’s apartment
  • Lucinda and David’s kids

To Show Omission of Letters (Contractions)

Apostrophes are also used to show the omission of letters — when letters have been left out, as in contractions. For example:

  • Don’t = do not
  • I’d = I would
  • He’s = he is or he has
  • Would’ve = would have
  • Let’s = Let us

We can also use apostrophes to show the omission of numbers at the beginning of years. For example, “the class of 2024” can become “the class of ’24.”

To Form Plurals of Letters and Numbers (But Only These Things!)

While apostrophes are not used to form plurals of words, they are used to form the plurals of letters and numbers. 

For example:

  • B’s = Martin got all B’s on his report card.
  • 4’s = There are three 4’s in my phone number.

Having said all that, we do not use apostrophes for decades.

  • INCORRECT: the 1980’s
  • CORRECT: the 1980s

Examples of Apostrophes

Let’s look at some examples of apostrophes used correctly. We’ll throw in some plurals, too!

  • The Acropolis is one of Greece’s biggest attractions.
  • The restaurant was serving a chef’s special.
  • Brad and Abbie’s car has run smoothly since ’76.
  • The 1950s were a great time for women’s fashion.
  • Apples and oranges are Lucinda’s favorite fruits.
  • Wouldn’t you like to go to Gary’s house?
  • I know that Brent’s here to help. (Contraction of Brent + is)
  • Susan’s gone to the store. (Contraction of Susan + has)
  • She doesn’t let anyone pick her tree’s lemons. (She has one lemon tree.)
  • She doesn’t let anyone pick her trees’ lemons. (She has more than one lemon tree.)

Common Apostrophe Mistakes

The most common mistake in using apostrophes is in making plurals. To make words plural, we do not add an apostrophe. Look at these examples:

  • INCORRECT: Free drink’s → CORRECT: free drinks
  • INCORRECT: Hundred’s of used car’s → CORRECT: hundreds of used cars

Sometimes, we get tripped up by words that end in e, like “apostrophe.” But even then, we don’t use an apostrophe to form a plural.

  • INCORRECT: Three apostrophe’s → CORRECT: three apostrophes
  • INCORRECT: Two regular coffee’s → CORRECT: two regular coffees

Struggling with Apostrophes? EditorNinja’s Here to Help

Getting punctuation right in your writing is crucial for clear and effective communication. Many writers and content producers still occasionally trip up over apostrophes, which can result in content that confuses the reader or, even worse, makes them think you aren’t a credible source.

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