Dr. Judith M. Newman

The Apostrophe

The apostrophe has four uses:

  • in contraction
  • for plurals of letters and figures
  • for letters dropped in representing speech
  • with possessive case forms

Although the apostrophe is a minor punctuation mark that seldom affects a reader's interpretation of written text, it's omission or wrong insertion is very noticeable.

In Contractions

Apostrophes are used in contractions to indicate the omission of one or more letters:

  • can't = cannot
  • I'll = I will
  • it's = it is
  • we're = we are
  • don't = do not
  • o'clock = of the clock
  • haven't = have not
  • isn't = is not
  • shouldn't = should not
  • I've = I have
  • could've = could have
  • who's = who is
  • that's = that is

An appostrophe is NOT used as an apologetic mark with shortened foroms:

  • altho
  • phone
  • tho
  • thro

For plurals of letters and figures

An apostrophe is generally used before an "s" to form the plurals of figures, letters of the alphabet, and words considered as words:

  • the early 1990's [or 1900s]
  • several size 16's [or 16s]
  • a .44 pistol and two .22's [or .22s]
  • There are four s's, four i's, and two p's in Mississippi

For letters dropped in representing speech

An apostrophe is commonly used to indicate the omission of sounds in representing speech:

"J.C. just kep' on sayin', Mame, I'm not a-goin' to move until I see where I'm goin'."

It is not necessary in representing conversation to indicate all such omissions, and frequent apostrophes make for difficult reading.

to indicate possession

An apostrophe is used with the singular and plural forms of nouns to indicate the "genetive" case - that is to show possession:

  • Judith's computer
  • New York's parks
  • children's games
  • his parents' permission
  • a stone's throw

An apostrophe is NOT used with the possessive forms of the pronouns his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs:

  • the city and its suburbs
  • these seats are ours

Proofreading For Apostrophes

When you're finished writing it's a good idea to proofread to make sure you've used apostrophes correctly:

  • Check every word that ends in -s or -es to see if it needs an apostrophe.
  • If you tend to overuse apostrophes, check each one you've used and see if you can identify the rule for its use.

Online quiz

Click here to check your proficiency using apostrophes.