Grammar Tips: The Apostrophe

by Sheila J Tofflemire on Thursday, April 28, 2011, 2:42 pm · 2 comments

in Grammar Tips

So many people misuse the apostrophe, I thought perhaps it’s time to throw in a few tips about proper usage for this particular punctuation.

When to use an apostrophe:

  • To show possession
    – my brother’s car, my parents’ house, your dog’s bone
  • To form contractions (indicating missing letters)
    – don’t, won’t, shouldn’t, could’ve (abbreviation for “could have” not “could of”), it’s*, who’s**, ’60
  • To pluralize certain lowercase letters (in order to avoid confusion)
    – p’s and q’s; i’s, a’s, u’s (so as not to confuse with is, as, us)

Apostrophe misuse
When NOT to use an apostrophe:

  • With possessive pronouns
    – his, hers, ours, yours, its*, whose**
  • With everyday plurals of nouns
    -homes, monkeys, tomatoes (see A Walk in the WoRds)
  • With acronyms and numbers
    – CDs, IRAs, 1990s, ’80s

* Do not confuse its and it’s. It’s is a contraction for it is or it has. Its simply show possession. More here: Grammar: Its or it’s?

** Who’s is a contraction for who is. Do not confuse with whose, which shows possession.
Example: Do you know who’s going to the school dance? Do you know whose coat was left behind?

But what about possessive nouns that already end in “s” as in “princess” or “Charles”? In these cases, the apostrophe placement can be a matter of choice; however, as The Oatmeal says: BE CONSISTENT.

And, I believe, this is the best overall advice (also from The Oatmeal): If in doubt, leave it out.


The Chicago Manual of Style (15th Edition)
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation
Grammar Girl: here, here, and here
OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab: The Apostrophe
A Walk in the WoRds: The Grocers’ Apostrophe
The Oatmeal: How to Use an Apostrophe

Apostrophe Quiz:

Try the following questions out to see how you handle the apostrophe. Pick the correct answer from the choice in brackets. (Answer page link will follow.)

  1. I (dont, don’t) have any more time for your nonsense.
  2. Don’t touch the camera; (its, it’s) not (your’s, yours).
  3. I (would’ve, wouldve) caught the school bus if (Id, I’d) only gotten up ten (minute’s, minutes) earlier.
  4. Nobody could tell me (who’s, whose) going to (whose, who’s) party.
  5. Can you stop by the store and pick up some (banana’s, bananas).
  6. Do you have any blank (CD’s, CDs) that you can lend me?
  7. The (1970s, 1970’s) are known for the popularity of Disco music.
  8. She has to stop at her (fathers, father’s) office to borrow some money from him.
  9. Someone born in (55, ’55) is known as a Baby Boomer.
  10. Is he a friend of (yours, your’s) or (hers, her’s)?
  11. The (executive’s, executives’) cars were parked in preassigned spots.
  12. Prince (Charles, Charles’, Charles’s) is involved in many environmental causes.
  13. (Charles, Charles’s, Charles’) cat clawed her way through the screen door.

Answers: Click here.


Lynnette Phillips May 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm

What about surnames that end in s?

Sheila Tofflemire May 3, 2011 at 11:15 am

Good question — I probably should have gone into more detail on that particular issue, since it can be confusing. I think I will do a follow-up post to address that particular question, but in the mean time, here are a couple of links that explain it quite well:

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