We use a range of punctuation every day, such as periods, commas, and apostrophes, but do we always use them correctly? Punctuation often misused is the apostrophe. Not to worry, though - in this explanation, we will clear up any confusion surrounding the apostrophe by looking at:

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Table of contents
    • What an apostrophe is

    • The rules for using apostrophes

    • Examples of the different apostrophe use

    Apostrophe Definition

    An apostrophe (') is a piece of punctuation used to show belonging or omission. When an apostrophe is used to show belonging, it appears at the end of a noun followed by an 's'.

    Cindy's bag.

    When an apostrophe is instead used to show omission, the apostrophe is used in the position of the missing letter so that the reader knows which letter or letters have been omitted.

    I don't like Cindy's bag.

    Apostrophe, Image of woman and bag, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The sentence "I don't like Cindy's bag" uses apostrophes for two different reasons.

    An example of apostrophes being used to show the omission of letters can be seen below:

    In the poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas,'1 poet Clement Clark Moore uses apostrophes in the following lines:

    "'Twas the night before Christmas

    And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap."

    Here, the apostrophe shows omissions in the words 'twas and 'kerchief. In 'twas, the apostrophe shows the omission of 'i' (from it was). In 'kerchief, the apostrophe shows the omission of 'hand' (from handkerchief).

    This has been done to keep a certain amount of syllables per line so that the poem has a driving rhythm when it is read.

    Apostrophe Symbol

    The apostrophe symbol looks like this: '

    Here are some examples of apostrophes in words so you can see how they look:

    • Harry's
    • can't
    • didn't
    • it's
    • Joni's
    • she'll
    • I've
    • ne'er
    • 'twas

    Now that we've ascertained what an apostrophe looks like, let's have a look at some of the rules for using apostrophes.

    Apostrophe Rules and Conventions

    There are two main uses for apostrophes:

    • To show a contraction or omission

    • To show belonging

    We can also use apostrophes to form plurals of numbers and letters.

    For each of these uses of apostrophes, there are different sets of rules. We'll have a look at these now.

    Using an Apostrophe to Show an Omission

    A common use of apostrophes is to show an omission. When we omit letters from words, we create contractions. The most common form of contractions involves joining two words together by removing letters and replacing them with an apostrophe.

    Don't = Do + not with the 'o' omitted

    I've = I + have with the 'ha' omitted

    When an apostrophe is used in this way, it is referred to as either the contractive apostrophe or the apostrophe of omission.

    Now that we know what omissions are, let's look at some examples of words that use apostrophes to show omissions.

    In each of these examples, the full form is in brackets next to it, and the omitted letters are shown in pink so that you can see what processes have taken place in each word.

    • don't (do not)
    • didn't (did not)
    • won't (will not) - this is an interesting example as the 'i' in will has been changed to an 'o'
    • shan't (shall not)
    • I'll (I will)
    • we've (we have)
    • they're (they are)
    • who's (who is or who has)
    • it's (it is or it has)
    • couldn't (could not)
    • shouldn't (should not)
    • let's (let us)
    • o'er (over)
    • ne'er (never)
    • 'twill (it will)
    • 'tis (it is)

    The other way that apostrophes are used is to show belonging, which we'll look at now.

    Using an Apostrophe to Show Belonging

    Apostrophes can be used to show belonging to a person, object, place, or concept. This is usually done by adding 's to the end of a noun.

    Here are some examples of using the possessive apostrophe at the end of words (the 's is shown in pink):

    • Harry's car
    • Kazima's hair
    • the rabbit's ears
    • the table's legs
    • Australia's greatest secret
    • psychology's main principles
    • the children's game

    The use of an apostrophe in this way is known as the possessive apostrophe.

    Forming Plurals of Numbers and Letters

    We usually do not use apostrophes to form plurals. For example, "She has ten cat's." is incorrect and a common mistake people make.

    However, we do use an apostrophe and an s to form plurals of numbers and letters.

    He got two A's and four B's in his exams.

    There are two 6's in my cell number.

    Using an Apostrophe After S

    It can get confusing using apostrophes when you need to show belonging to a word or name that already ends with an s. This could be a name or object that ends with an s (such as Chris or moss), or it could be a word that's already had an s added on the end to pluralize it (such as dogs or the Smiths).

    When a word ends in an s, and you want to show possession, you still need to add an apostrophe and an s. Some examples of this are shown below.

    • Chris's bag
    • the moss's color
    • the class's ambition
    • Charles's
    • the lass's hair
    • the cactus's spikes

    With names that end in s like Chris and Charles, you can decide whether to add just ' or 's (e.g., Charles' or Charles's). Both are usually accepted as being correct.

    Apostrophe Image of a cactus StudySmarterFig. 2 - In a phrase like "the cactus's spikes," the 's is added to show that the spikes belong to the cactus.

    When an s has been added to the end of a word to create pluralization, only an apostrophe is needed at the end to show possession. These words end in s' instead of 's. You can see some examples of these below.

    • the dogs' toys
    • the horses' tack
    • the girls' holiday
    • the bees' hive
    • the ants' nest
    • the houses' doors

    Now that we've gone over all of the rules of using apostrophes, let's look at some more examples.

    Apostrophe Examples

    Here are some examples of where apostrophes are used for different purposes.

    Showing contraction or omission in words (the omitted letters are highlighted).

    • I've (I have)

    • we'll (we will)

    • you're (you are)

    • there's (there is or there has)

    • it's (it is or it has)

    • who's (who is or who has)

    • wouldn't (would not)

    • couldn't (could not)

    • 'tis (it is)

    • 'twas (it was)

    • o'er (over)

    Showing possession in singular words that end in s.

    • Chris's car.

    • The moss's color is green.

    • The lass's hair is ginger.

    Showing possession in singular words that don't end in s.

    • The car's wheels.

    • The dog's tail.

    • John's revision books.

    Showing possession in plural words.

    • The cats' bed.

    • The ants' nest.

    • The boys' football game.

    Apostrophe - Key Takeaways

    • An apostrophe is a piece of punctuation used to show either omission, contraction, or belonging.
    • Apostrophes are often used when two words are contracted (joined together and shortened) to represent the missing letters.
    • Apostrophes are used to show belonging by adding 's to the end of words.
    • Where a singular word already ends in an s, 's is still added to the end to show belonging.
    • Where a plural word ends in an s, an apostrophe without a following s ( ' ) is added at the end to show belonging.


    1. C. C. Moore. A Visit From St. Nicholas. 1823
    Frequently Asked Questions about Apostrophe

    What is an apostrophe example?

    An example of using an apostrophe is in contracted words such as don't, wouldn't, we've, and you're.

    What are the 3 uses of apostrophes?

    Apostrophes have two main uses - to show omitted letters in contractions, and to show belonging.

    What is the rule for apostrophes?

    When using apostrophes to show belonging, there are different rules to follow. When the word is singular, you need to add 's to the end of a word. When the word is plural and ends in s (to make it plural), you need to add just ' to the end of the word.

    What are the two rules for apostrophes?

    Apostrophes have two main uses - to show where a letter is omitted in a contraction, and to show belonging.

    Is it Chris' or Chris's?

    When showing belonging, you usually add 's to the end of a word. When a singular word already ends in s, such as Chris, you still add 's to make it Chris's. It is however, usually accepted to use just an apostrophe instead. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false: When a singular word ends in s, 's is added to show belonging.

    Which of these phrases correctly shows that the bed belongs to three cats?

    Which of these correctly shows that the books belong to John?


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