Apostrophe in English: rules and examples

Apostrophe (') — English Grammar

Apostrophes in English: Definition, Rules, Examples, and Common Mistakes

The apostrophe (‘) is one of the smallest punctuation marks, but also one of the most difficult in English. The use of apostrophes often causes confusion even for people who know English well. The apostrophe is a punctuation mark that in English is used to indicate possession (to put a noun in the possessive case) or to shorten words. Examples of apostrophe use in English:

  • Denoting the omission of one or more letters (that is, for abbreviation). For example, shortening “do not” to “don’t”.
  • Denoting the possessive case of nouns (that is, showing belonging) as in “the eagle’s feathers”, “in one month’s time”, “the twins’ coats”).

You can also encounter the apostrophe (‘) in writing as a single quote mark. This is no longer an apostrophe, but the sign itself may encounter often. For example: “He told me ‘I love you’ and then he kissed me.”

In this article, we will look at the basic rules for using apostrophes and examples to help avoid mistakes.

Rules for Using Apostrophes in English

Let’s look closely at the rules for using apostrophes in English.

Apostrophe to Denote Possession

In English, apostrophes are used with nouns to denote possession. For example:

  • The dog’s leash
  • The writer’s desk
  • The planet’s atmosphere

This helps avoid ambiguous or awkward constructions. However, it’s important to know how to properly use apostrophes for singular and plural nouns, as well as for possessive pronouns.

To denote possession for singular nouns, we add apostrophe + letter -‘s to the noun.


  • The girl’s bicycle is red.
  • The man’s hat blew away.

If the noun already ends in ’s’ (plural), we simply add an apostrophe after the ‘s’.


  • The girls’ room is upstairs.
  • The students’ books were left in the classroom.

If the noun is plural but doesn’t end in ‘s’, the rule remains the same as for singular (add -‘s):

  • The children’s toys are in the box.

For singular proper names ending in s, there are different styles for apostrophe use. Some add only an apostrophe:

  • Charles Dickens’ novels

Others add -‘s:

  • Charles Dickens’s novels

Both options are considered correct, but you should adhere to one style in a given document.

Apostrophe for Shortening Words

Apostrophes are often used in English to create contractions, showing where letters have been omitted:

  • I am → I’m
  • She is → She’s
  • Cannot → Can’t
  • Does not → Doesn’t
  • Will not → Won’t

This helps make the language more informal and conversational. However, in formal or academic writing, words are usually spelled out fully. Importantly, not all shortened words use apostrophes. For example, “gonna” is a contraction of “going to” and does not have an apostrophe.

Apostrophe to Denote Missing Letters or Numbers

The apostrophe can be used to show missing letters or numbers when writing words that are not contractions. For example:

  • rock ‘n’ roll
  • o’clock
  • class of ’24

This helps stylize the language. However, the apostrophe should only be used where it does not cause confusion or misplaced emphasis.

Apostrophe for Words That Typically Lack Plural Forms, or That Are Used in Non-Standard or Ironic Ways

The apostrophe may be used with words that typically lack plural forms, or when a word is used in a figurative or ironic sense, to emphasize this.


  • Mind your p’s and q’s (be careful, attentive)
  • My friend thinks he’s a ‘genius’ at math
  • She received many A’s on her report card

Thus, the apostrophe here helps emphasize the non-standard or ironic use of a word and indicate the speaker’s attitude.

Important Exceptions for Using Apostrophes in English

  • Apostrophes are not used with personal pronounsexcept for “one’s.” For example: its, yours, hers, ours, etc. but one’s own opinion.
  • Apostrophes are not used with non-finite verb forms, but -’s is added to verbs ending in ‐s, -z, -x, -ch, or -sh to indicate plural. For example: swimming, talking, dancing, but he teaches → he teaches’, she relaxes → she relaxes’.
  • In most cases, apostrophes are not used with geographic names in the pluralbut if the names end in ‐s, ‐’s is added to indicate possession. For example: the Philippines, the Americas, but the United States’s president, the Bahamas’s beaches.
  • Apostrophes are usually not used with the names of some stores and public places, even if they end in ‐s, but -’s is added to indicate possession if they contain a proper name. For example: Marks & Spencer, Citizens Advice Bureau, but McDonald’s, Harrods, St James’s Park.
  • Apostrophes are not used in datesbut if you write an abbreviated year, an apostrophe indicates missing numbers. For example: in the 1980s, on July 21st, but in ’98, in ’76.
  • Apostrophes are usually not used with abbreviations and acronymsbut -’s is added to indicate plural or possession. For example: UK, USA, NATO, but the UK’s economy, the USA’s flag, NATO’s headquarters.

Common Apostrophe Mistakes in English

There are some confusing cases with apostrophe use, such as the difference between “its” and “it’s”. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has” and always takes an apostrophe, whereas “its” is a possessive pronoun denoting belonging and does not take an apostrophe.


  • It’s (it is) going to rain today.
  • The dog chased its tail.

Not to be confused with plurals. Apostrophes are not used to form plural nouns. This is a common mistake, especially with words ending in vowels, but it’s important to remember that plurals are formed by adding ‘s’ or ‘es’ without an apostrophe.

  • Incorrect: banana’s Correct: bananas

Apostrophes play an important role in English writing, helping to express possession and contractions. By understanding the main rules and exceptions, apostrophes can be used correctly and confidently. Finally, always check the context and read your writing out loud to confirm the correct use of apostrophes.

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