The apostrophe

An apostrophe (') is used to indicate the omission of a letter or letters from a word, the possessive case, or the plurals of lowercase letters.Examples of the apostrophe in use include:

  • Omission of letters from a word: I've seen that movie several times. She wasn't the only one who knew the answer.
  • Possessive case: Sara's dog bit the neighbor.
  • Plural for lowercase letters: Six people were told to mind their p's and q's.

It should be noted that, according to Purdue University, some teachers and editors enlarge the scope of the use of apostrophe, and prefer their use on symbols (&'s), numbers (7's) and capitalized letters (Q&A's), even though they are not necessary.

Showing possession

The apostrophe ( ’ ) is used to show that something belongs to someone. It is usually added to the end of a word and followed by an -s.

  • -’sis added to the end of singular words.
  • a baby’spushchair
  • Hannah’sbook
  • a child’scry
  • -’sis added to the end of plural words not ending in -s.
  • children’sgames
  • women’sclothes
  • people’slives
  • An apostrophe alone () is added to plural words ending in -s.
  • Your grandparents are your parents
  • We’re campaigning for workers
  • They’ve hired a new ladiesfashion guru.
  • -’sis added to the end of names and singular words ending in -s.
  • James’scar
  • the octopus’stentacles
  • -’sis added to the end of certain professions or occupations to indicate workplaces.
  • She’s on her way to the doctor’s.
  • James is at the hairdresser’s.
  • -’sis added to the end of people or their names to indicate that you are talking about their home.
  • I’m going over to Harry’sfor tea tonight.
  • I popped round to Mum’sthis afternoon, but she wasn’t in.
  • Note that if the word is a classical Greek name, or a historical figure or building, an apostrophe only is sometimes preferred.
  • Dickensnovels
  • St GilesCathedral

-’s can also be added to:

  • whole phrases
  • My next-door neighbour’sdog was barking away like mad.
  • John and Cath’shouse was on TV last night.
  • indefinite pronouns such as somebodyor anywhere
  • Is this anybody’spencil case?
  • It’s nobody’sfault but mine.
  • each other
  • We’re getting used to each other’s
  • We kept forgetting each other’s

When the possessor is an inanimate object (rather than a living thing), the apostrophe is not used and the word order is changed.

  • the middle of the street (not the street’s middle)
  • the front of the house (not the house’s front)

To test whether an apostrophe is in the right place, think about who the owner is.

  • the boy’sbooks [= the books belonging to the boy]
  • the boys’books [= the books belonging to the boys]

Note that:

  • An apostrophe is notused to form possessive pronouns such as itsyours, or theirs.
  • An apostrophe is notused to form the plurals of words such as potatoes or tomatoes.

With letters and numbers

An apostrophe is used in front of two figures referring to a year or decade.

  • French students rioted in’68 [short for ‘1968’].
  • He worked as a schoolteacher during the’60s and early ’90s.

An apostrophe can be used in plurals of letters and numbers to make them more readable.

  • Mind your p’sand q’s.
  • His 2’slook a bit like 7’s.
  • She got straight A’sin her exams.


it’s = it is, e.g. It’s a holiday today.
its = belonging to it, e.g. The dog was scratching its ear.

Contracted forms

An apostrophe is used in shortened forms of words to show that one or more letters have been missed out. Contractions are usually shortened forms of auxiliary verbs

be have
I’m I/we/they’ve (have)
We/you/they’re (are) He/she/it/one’s (has)
He/she/it/one’s (is) I/we/you/he/she/it/one/they’d (had)


I/we/you/he/she/it/one/they’d (would)

or the negative not.

We/you/they aren’t
He/she/it/one isn’t
I/we/they haven’t
He/she/it/one hasn’t
In order to work out what the contracted forms ’s and ’d represent, you need to look at what follows it:

- If ’s is followed by an -ing form, it represents the auxiliary is.
She’s reading a book about the ancient Egyptians.
He’s going to Ibiza for his holidays.

- If ’s is followed by an adjective or a noun phrase, it represents the main verb is.
She’s nervous about meeting my parents.
He’s brilliant at maths.

- If ’s is followed by a past participle, it can represent is as it is used in the passive,
He’s portrayed by the media as a kindly old grandfather.
It’s often said that rock stars are frustrated actors.

or has as it is used in the present perfect.
She’s broken her wrist.
It’s been ages since we last saw you.

- If ’s is followed by got, it represents the auxiliary has.
She’s got two brothers and one sister.
It’s got everything you could want.

- If ’d is followed by a past participle, it represents the auxiliary had.
I’d raced against him before, but never in a marathon.
She couldn’t believe what she’d done.

- If ’d is followed by a base form, it represents the modal auxiliary would.
I’d give up now, if I were you.
When we were kids we’d spend hours out on our bikes.

- If ’d is followed by rather or better, it represents the modal auxiliary would.
We’d better go home soon.
I’d rather not talk about that.


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