How to Use Apostrophes

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My cheese, as in Kevin’s cheese, should not be moved. Don’t touch it!

Apostrophes are used for omission and possession, connection and contraction. Unless you are a poet or a songwriter, you will most often use the apostrophe for showing possession or a loose connection between two things. But in this article, we’ll cover both.

THE BASICS

Possession and Connection
Add an apostrophe and an -s to a word to show possession or ownership of something.

grizzly bear‘s honey

Sean‘s blog

Notice that the apostrophe + s form can be written as a prepositional phrase, but may sound a little awkward. So, apostrophes can be an excellent way to make things clear and concise in your writing.

honey of the Grizzly bear

blog of Sean

Omission and Contraction

The other common use of the apostrophe is to signal that a letter or two has been removed or that two words have been joined together.

Contraction: cannot = cant

Contraction: does not = doesnt

Omission: over = oer

Omission: going = goin

 

NITTY GRITTY DETAILS

1. Singular Nouns Ending in -s

Unfortunately for writers, style guides disagree on what to do in this situation. Some style guides (Oxford University Press, Modern Language Association, the BBC and The Economist) ask the reader to always attach an apostrophe and -s to the word.

Jesus‘s disciples

Thomas‘s tavern

Chess‘s strategy

Dallas‘s downtown district

goodness‘s sake

Other style guides (The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style) let the writer drop the -s and only use an apostrophe. Since a double -s can cause some difficulty when reading, these other guides allow for the -s to be dropped.

Jesus disciples

Thomas tavern

Chess strategy

Dallas downtown district

goodness sake

2. Plural Nouns Ending in -s
When a plural noun ends with an -s, only add an apostrophe.

the plums pits

kids corner

cities residents

Irregular plurals that do not end in -s, should have both the apostrophe and the -s added. However, this can create some strange and awkward readings, so consider rewriting the phrase or sentence to avoid the awkwardness.

Awkward: the two dice‘s sides

Easier to Read: the sides of the two dice

3. Words that end with an -s sound

Some words do not end with an -s, but with an -s sound. Sometimes adding both the apostrophe and the -s can lead to an awkward word to read. If this is the case, some style guides allow the -s to be dropped; other style guides don’t allow you to drop the -s. I’d say the choice is yours unless you have a specific style guide that you are required to follow.

Awkward: convenience‘s sake

Awkward: mice‘s home

Easier to Read: convenience sake

Easier to Read: mice home

These phrases could be rewritten to completely avoid the issue, but it will lead to a wordier expression. You will need to decide what is preferable based on the context.

Rewrite: the sake of convenience

Rewrite: home of the mice

4. Joint Ownership

If more than one person owns something, place the apostrophe and -s on the last noun.

No: Jack‘s and Jill‘s bucket of water

Yes: Jack and Jill‘s bucket of water

But if two or more people own two distinct things, then place the apostrophe and -s on both nouns. Notice that the noun changes from singular to plural in this case.

Jack‘s and Jill‘s buckets of water

5. Omitting the Century from the Date

In some writing, usually less formal, the century can be omitted from the year with an apostrophe.

The 60s

06 earthquake

But in these cases, the century is understood by the reader. But if you are concerned about ambiguity or are writing in a formal setting, write the whole date out.

The 1560s

1906 earthquake

6. For making plurals of letter, numbers, and abbreviations

This is yet another rule that is not universally applied. In some cases, style guides will recommend using an apostrophe and an -s to letters, numbers, and abbreviations. But this can sometimes be ambiguous since adding an apostrophe and an -s to words makes them possessive. So decide for yourself what you prefer.

One way: P‘s and Q‘s

One way: How many 8‘s are there?

One way: CD‘s and DVD‘s 

The Other Way: Ps and Qs

The Other Way: How many 8s are there?

The Other Way: CDs and DVD

7. Not with Geographic Places or Names

Perhaps the most peculiar rule, the United States Board on Geographic Name dropped all apostrophes from names. We rarely think of this case as being strange, but once I learned this rule, I started to notice it everywhere. (Some exceptions do apply, like Martha’s Vineyard, though).

Incorrect: Lucy’s Foot Pass, King’s Canyon Pass, Ca.

Incorrect: Edward‘s Run Wildlife Management Area, Capon Bridge, WV

Correct: Lucys Foot Pass, Kings Canyon Pass, Ca.

Incorrect: Edwards Run Wildlife Management Area, Capon Bridge, WV