Apostrophe – How to Use It Correctly

The apostrophe – what is it by definition?

Many people make grammar mistakes either by missing the apostrophe or misplacing it. In English there are many punctuations marks each with different uses and an apostrophe is one of them. We shall discuss what an apostrophe is and get to know its uses and importance. Before we continue, we first need to know what an apostrophe is.

Apostrophe definition: this is a punctuation mark (‘) used to show either contractions in place of missing words (e.g. didn’t, won’t, can’t) or to show possession (peter’s car, John’s, boys’ toys).

Many times, the apostrophe is either misused or misunderstood. When an apostrophe is misplaced or is missing it can alter the meaning of the sentence or the sentence can make no meaning at all. This is because many people fail to understand what an apostrophe does.

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Uses of apostrophe

Apostrophes are used for two major reasons that is:

  • To show contraction in place of missing words
  • To show possession.

Apostrophes help one to make their writing clear and precise. When apostrophes are used correctly it brings out the intended meaning.

  1.    Using an apostrophe to show possession

Apostrophes are used to show the possessive form of nouns. They show that an object belongs to the noun. The possessive form is obtained by adding “s” after an apostrophe. The position of the apostrophe varies for singular and plural nouns.

  •    An apostrophe can be used to show possession by a proper single noun. To show ownership, an apostrophe is put before an “s” in the proper noun indicating that the place, person or thing shows that what follows his or her name belongs to them. For example, Mike’s house. We know that the house belongs to mike because of the (‘) before the “s”. It unacceptable to indicate ownership for certain proper nouns. For example, “Monday’s racing activity “is incorrect because Monday is not capable of ownership. In other cases, an apostrophe is used to show an activity belong to a certain day or season. For example, “the month’s work” this means that that specific work was to be completed on that specific month. This is because the month is incapable of ownership.
  •    Consistency should be there when using apostrophes after words ending with an “s”. When somebody’s name ends with an “s” it is right to use an apostrophe without adding an “s” to show possession. For example, “Justus’ shoes.” It is also correct to add an “s” after the apostrophe. For example, “Francis’s car.” Whichever you choose to use make sure you are consistent with it.
  •    When using “it” do not use an apostrophe since it does not show ownership. It is right to say “United States’s export policy.” If your reader knows that you are talking about the United States you can refer to the country as “it”. When referring to something owned by united states you can say “its export policy”.

This is to avoid the confusion brought about when using “its” to show possession and “it’s” to show contraction of “it is”. At times one is not used whether to use an apostrophe or not. In such a case try constructing a sentence with “it has” or “it is”. Drop the apostrophe if the sentence does not make any sense.

  • An apostrophe can be used to show possession by a plural noun. For a plural group, apostrophe usage occurs when talking about what a family or group of people own. For example, say the brain family is your friends and they own a penthouse. The penthouse is “the Jacobs’ penthouse” and not “the Jacob’s penthouse”. This is because presumably all the Jacobs own the penthouse, hence an apostrophe is added after the “s”.
  • In other cases, the family’s last name ends with an “s,” before adding an apostrophe to it ‘make it plural. For example, if you want to talk about the Jones family, in a plural form they will become “the Joneses”. If it seems a bit awkward, drop the plural form by saying “the Jones family”
  • When listing specifics who owns an object, know where to place the apostrophe. For example, both Jacob and Elsy own a dog. It will be written “JACOB and Elsie’s dog and not Jacob’s and Elsie’s dog. This is because Jacob and Elsy is a cohesive noun and hence one apostrophe is needed.
  •    Avoid use of the apostrophe for plurals. Avoid using apostrophes to indicate a plural. If there is more than one ball, write balls not ball’s.
  •    For acronyms and years, one should know how and where to use apostrophes. In a case of using an acronym, say for a noun like DVD. To make its plural, use “DVDs,” and not DVD’s. The same case goes for years – instead of writing 1970’s use “1970s.’

An apostrophe is only used in a year if it is in place of omitted numbers. For example, if one needs to write a shorter form of the year 2002, you can write’02. In such a case it serves as shorthand and the apostrophe acts like it does in the case of contraction.

When using apostrophes to show possession, there are a few apostrophe rules to be followed to avoid confusion and use of apostrophe where they aren’t needed.

  • Use of apostrophe before “s” to show that an object is owned by one person. Example, Thecla’s car, Julius’s house. – it is correct to add an “s” even when the name ends with an “s” to show the ownership form.
  • When showing possession by a plural noun an apostrophe is added after the “s”. E.g. grandparents’ room, boys’ toys. Remember it isn’t a must to add another “s” to the plural noun.
  • To form the possessive form of a plural noun which doesn’t end with an “s” just add an apostrophe with “s”. e.g. children’s park.
  1.    Use of apostrophes in contraction

In informal writing, apostrophes are used to show missing letters. The missing letters can be one or more. For instance, the word ‘wouldn’t’ is the short form of “would not”; other examples include “don’t,”- “do not” “can’t,”- “cannot” “isn’t,”- “is not” “shouldn’t,”-“should not.”

Verbs such as is, has, have can also be contracted. For instance, “they have been reading the whole afternoon.” Can be written as “they’ve been reading the whole afternoon”; “she’s a new school bag” instead of “she has a new school bag.”

  • Its vs it’s trap. When using the word “it”, an apostrophe is used when indicating contraction for “it has” or ‘it is”. Possessive pronouns formed do not use an apostrophe. “It” is a pronoun hence it does not need an apostrophe before “s.” This is because in such a case you are talking about something belonging to an “it.” For example, the tree has beautiful flowers. Its flowers are pretty. Another example, it’s just the cow eating its grass. It’s is the contraction of it is while ‘its’ is the possessive pronoun. The sentence may seem complicated and confusing but it follows the same trend as that of other possessive pronouns: its, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs.
  • Some contractions do not exist hence avoid using them. In other cases, people may use informal contraction which do not exist. For example, “couldn’t’ve.” Such contraction should be avoided in formal writing.

Another mistake commonly made in contraction is the contraction of people’s names. For instance, if you write john’s as a contraction of “John is,” is not correct. “John’s” is possessive and not a contraction.

However, it is correct to use contraction for pronouns such as “she’s” or “he’s” which stands for “she is” and “he is” respectively.

When using an apostrophe for contraction, there is one apostrophe rule to be followed.

  • For two words to be combined, some letters needed to be omitted to form a contraction. An apostrophe is put in their place. E.g. aren’t – are not

Examples in sentence

Just like other punctuation marks such as comma, full stop, etc. are used in sentences, apostrophe too can be used in one way or another in sentence construction. Depending on how the apostrophe has been used in a sentence it will always bring out a different meaning. Be careful not to misuse or misplace an apostrophe.

In the sentences below, we are going to look at the different examples of an apostrophe in sentences.

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  •    Personal pronoun contraction.

Personal pronouns are sometimes combined with the verb “to be,” “will,” “have,” “would,” and “had.” The way the contraction is formed may vary from pronoun to pronoun. The table below will help one understand how to form personal pronoun contraction and hence apply them in sentences.

pronoun +will +to be + have/has + would/had
I I’ll I’m I’ve I’d
You You’ll You’re You’ve You’d
They They’ll They’re They’ve They’d
We We’ll We’re We’ve We’d
He/she He’ll/she’ll He’s/she’s He’s/she’s He’d/she’d
Jane Jane’ll Jane’s Jane’s Jane’d

From the table above, we can form sentences using personal pronoun contraction.

  1. I’m the one who called you yesternight.
  2. I’ll be coming to your place tomorrow.
  3. If you had called tom you’d have the answer right now.
  4. They’ll be in town by noon.
  5. He’s the one who saved the child.
  6. We’re supposed to clean the church tomorrow.
  7. You’ve washed the clothes well.
  8. Jane’s dog is in the house.
  •    Verb contraction

When forming contraction for a negative form of certain verbs’ apostrophes are useful too. The table below will help one know how to form verb contraction and thereby apply them in sentences.

Regular verb Verb + negative contraction
Are Are not Aren’t
is Is not Isn’t
Do Do not Don’t
Did Did not Didn’t
can Cannot Can’t
will Will not Won’t
must Must not Mustn’t
Could Could not Couldn’t
Had Had not Hadn’t
Have Have not Haven’t
would Would not Wouldn’t
Has Has not Hasn’t

From the above table, we know how to form contraction of verbs and hence can use them in sentences.

Examples in sentences include:

  • Aren’t we going home yet?
  • Sharon is a good girl, isn’t it?
  • Don’t talk to strangers.
  • They didn’t finish their assignment on time.
  • Can’t we just agree on one thing?
  • Mercy won’t be able o pass by the mall to buy sugar.
  • Children mustn’t demand things their parents cannot afford,
  • They couldn’t make it to the stadium on time.


possession by a singular noun.

in writing, we use apostrophes before “s” to show possession of singular nouns.

Examples in sentences include:

  •    Jacob’s girlfriend is beautiful.
  •    David’s favorite game is football.
  •    Math is my son’s favorite subject.
  •    The city’s stadium was filled with people for the football game on Saturday.
  •    Abby’s tablet was stolen during her math lesson.
  •    You can buy the dog’s meat at the market later.

Possessives in plural form

Nouns, in their plural form, end with an “s” or “es”. In English adding an apostrophe the “s’” after an “s” may seem a bit awkward. Hence in cases of plural nouns, we just add an apostrophe after the “s”.

Examples in sentences include:

  •    The girls’ dolls are blue and red.
  •    The cars’ keys were in the locked room for days.
  •    The teachers’ bags are all in the staffroom.
  •    The families’ pets were all fluffy.

People tend to make mistakes with apostrophes when it comes to forming plurals. When forming plurals of nouns an apostrophe is not needed. The plural is formed by either adding an “s” or “es” depending on the noun. An apostrophe is added to the plural only when showing possession i.e. when showing that the objects in question belong to the nouns being talked about.

I am certain that with this guide you are now set to use apostrophe in the right way without making mistakes and provide correct papers. It is now your role to practice on the mentioned apostrophe uses so as to perfect your language.

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