How to Use Apostrophes Correctly

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

The ability to communicate clearly in writing is an important communication skill.  I have found that many people’s writing suffers from the inappropriate use of apostrophes.  I found a wikiHow on how to use apostrophes correctly.

A wikiHow on Apostrophes

The rules for apostrophes vary with the type of word. Learn where to put apostrophes so that your writing is clear and correct.  Using apostrophes inappropriately quickly shows that you do not understand the rules about possessives, contractions, and plurals. If in doubt, err on the side of leaving out the apostrophe.

Don’t use an apostrophe to indicate a plural. The incorrect use of an apostrophe to form the plural is called the greengrocer’s apostrophe, since grocers are often the worst (or at least the most visible) offenders. If you have more than one apple, then write apples, not apple’s. If you cannot replace the word with "his" or "their" and if it isn’t a contraction, then an apostrophe should not be used.  "Apple’s 89¢ a pound," literally means that "apple" owns "89¢ a pound" (the possessive) or "Apple is 89¢ a pound" (a contraction).

People often forget the rules when a word ends in a vowel, such as the word "photo." Many people write "photo’s" instead of "photos".  An exception to this use is in the case of making a single letter plural. Therefore, Why are there many i’s in the word "indivisibility"? is correct. This is simply for clarity reasons, so the reader does not mistake it for the word "is".

However, in modern usage, the preference is to avoid inserting an apostrophe and instead surround the single letter in quotation marks before pluralizing it: Why are there so many "i"s in the word "indivisibility"?  Similarly, apostrophes can be used when talking about a word (e.g. this list contains a lot of do’s and don’t’s) but quotation marks can make it clearer ("do"s and "don’t"s).

Place an apostrophe before the "s" when you are indicating a singular possessive. With few exceptions, this is true even if the name or word ends in "s". "Jacob’s shoes are very cool." The shoes belong to Jacob (singular: one person). "I found the dog’s old bone buried in the backyard." The bone belongs to the dog (singular: a single dog).

Place an apostrophe after the "s" when you are dealing with a possessive plural case. When a noun is pluralized by adding an "s" to the end (e.g. book to books, tree to trees), the apostrophe must be placed at the end of the word to make it possessive (books’, trees’). But if the word can be made plural without an "s" at the end, this rule does not apply; the apostrophe goes before the "s".

"Look at all of the sailors’ boats!" The boats belong to the sailors (plural: there is more than one sailor). "The children’s dresses were pink and frilly." The dresses belong to the children, but since the word children is already plural without having to add an "s" at the end, this is an exception.

Use apostrophes in contractions. Apostrophes can also be used to indicate a missing letter. For example, the word "don’t" is short for "do not"; other examples include "isn’t," "wouldn’t," and "can’t." It is also used to shorten sentences with variations of the verb "is" (including "has" and "have"). For example, we can write "She’s going to school" instead of "She is going to school"; or, "He’s lost the game" instead of "He has lost the game."

Be aware of the its/it’s exception. Use an apostrophe with the word "it" only when you want to indicate a contraction for "it is" or "it has". Its is one of the few words that indicates possession without an apostrophe. For example, "That noise? It’s just the dog eating its bone". This may seem confusing, but it follows the same pattern as other possessive pronouns: his, hers, its, yours, ours, theirs.

Place an apostrophe after the "s" when you are indicating a singular possessive for a person’s name that ends with the letter "s". No "s" is required after the apostrophe. For example, one can refer to a bike that belongs to Charles as "Charles’ bike."

If you want to write about a party given by Luke and Ashley Smart and all their children, write "the Smarts’ party" (Smarts is a plural, then add the possessive apostrophe).   

Don’t put an apostrophe within your name on your return address label. If your surname is "Greenwood," "The Greenwoods" is correct, while "the Greenwood’s" is incorrect.

Never write "her’s." Her’s is not a word, just as you would not write "him’s". Recall that possessive pronouns do not need an apostrophe: his, hers, its, yours, ours, theirs.

When a word ends in "y," as in "try," take extra care when changing the verb form. For example, "try" does not become "try’s". "Tries" is correct.

Do not use apostrophes or quotation marks for emphasis. For example, take a billboard that says: Joe Schmo, the "best" realtor in town! It makes the word "best" appear sarcastic and untrue, rather than emphasized.

This wikiHow presents some good common sense advice on the use of apostrophes.  You may be thinking “apostrophes are a small thing, who really cares if I use them correctly?”  The answer to this question is “anyone who is competent in the English language.  Appropriate use of apostrophes tells your reader that you are a literate person with a good grasp of the rules of grammar.  And, it makes your writing my clear.  Clear writing is not only an important communication skill, it also helps you make a positive personal impact – especially with people who know you only by your writing.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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