Apostrophes are used to show
Add ‘s to create the possessive form of most singular nouns.
- My mother’s father is 100 years old.
- A wolf’s tail is long and bushy.
- The table’s legs are strong and sturdy.
Add ‘s to create the possessive form of irregular plural nouns not ending in s.
- Women’s rights are severely restricted in the Middle East and North Africa.
- Does anyone’s glass need a refill?
- People’s opinions can change over time.
Add ‘s to create the possessive form of singular proper nouns ending in s, x, or z.
- We took a road trip in Dolores’s new car.
- Halifax’s 2019 population is estimated at 410,816.
- One of Alcatraz’s most famous inmates was Al Capone.
NOTE: A less common practice is to add only an apostrophe to form the possessive of singular nouns ending in an s- or eez- sound, especially if it would create an awkward pronunciation of the word. Follow your school’s or institution’s style guide and be sure to be consistent throughout your writing.
Add only an apostrophe to form the possessive of plural nouns ending in s.
- We fill all of our pets’ water bowls with fresh water every day.
- Nurses administer pain medicine to relieve their patients’ discomfort.
- I received an invitation to the Johnsons’ family reunion.
To form the possessive of compound nouns, add ‘s to only the last word.
- My mother-in-law’s lemon meringue pie is the best I’ve ever tasted.
- An editor-in-chief’s job is to make sure deadlines are met.
- My washing machine’s agitator is broken.
To show joint possession of more than one noun, make only the last noun possessive.
- Anne and John’s dog is a beautiful Rottweiler.
- Bill and Dottie’s daughter had a baby girl named Nora.
- The bedroom, den, and kitchen’s color is grayish white.
To show individual ownership, make both nouns possessive. In the following sentence, two cars have been stolen (Mike’s and Mary’s).
- Mike’s and Mary’s cars were both stolen yesterday.
Do not use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns.
- Ours is the house on the corner. (not our’s).
- The bear held a salmon in its paws. (not it’s, which is the contraction for it is).
Some style guides recommend using ‘s to form certain plurals, such as with capital letter abbreviations, and numbers used as nouns (as with dates), while other style guides recommend using only an apostrophe. Follow the style manual or policy of your school or organization if you’re not sure, and be consistent in your writing.
- “Children need to master the three Rs.” (Chicago Manual of Style)
- “Children need to master the three R’s.” (AP Stylebook)
- My son got As, Bs, and Cs on his report card.
- My son got A’s, B’s, and C’s on his report card.
- We grew up in the 1990s.
- We grew up in the 1990’s.
Apostrophes are used to form word contractions. An apostrophe in a contracted word indicates omitted letters, while an apostrophe in a contracted date indicates omitted numbers.
- We’re going to the fair on Saturday. (we’re = we are)
- The North American Drought of ’88 ranks among the worst in U.S. history. (’88 = 1988)
- Some short-sighted people thought rock ‘n’ roll would never last. (rock ‘n’ roll = rock and roll)
- Baby, it’s cold outside! (it’s = it is)
NOTE: Do not confuse possessive pronouns with word contractions. Some possessive pronouns and word contractions are pronounced alike but have completely different meanings. Possessive pronouns never contain apostrophes.
- Possessive pronoun: your
- Word contraction: you’re (you are)
- Possessive pronoun: their
- Contraction: they’re (they are)
- Possessive pronoun: its
- Contraction: it’s (it is)