What Are Apostrophes? (with Examples)

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What Are Apostrophes? (with Examples)

An apostrophe (') is a punctuation mark used to replace a missing letter(s), to show the possessive form of a noun, or to show an awkward plural.

Below is a quick overview of when apostrophes are used. Click here for a more comprehensive version of this list or click on the "Read more" link with each entry.

When to Use Apostrophes (A Very Quick Overview)

Below is a quick overview on when to use apostrophes.

(1) Use an apostrophe to replace missing letters.
  • can't
  • (The apostrophe replaces no in cannot.)
  • isn't
  • (The apostrophe replaces o in is not.)
  • don't
  • (The apostrophe replaces o in do not.)
The shortened words are known as contractions. Do not make up your own contractions.

Read more about apostrophes to replace missing letters.

(2) Use an apostrophe to create the possessive form of a noun.
  • The fire fighters' code
  • The women's hat
  • The dog's dinner
  • (one dog, one dinner)
  • The dogs' dinners
  • (several dogs, several dinners)
  • The dogs' dinner
  • (several dogs, one dinner)
Read more about apostrophes and the possessive forms of nouns.
Read more about the possessive case.

(3) Use an apostrophe to create a temporal expression.
  • 2 years' tax
  • a day's pay
  • 4 days' pay
A temporal expression is really the possessive form of a noun. However, the idea of "possession" is not obvious. As you read more about possessive nouns, you will learn that the notion of possession (i.e., ownership) is used very broadly.

Read more about apostrophes in temporal expressions.

(4) Use an apostrophe to form an awkward plural.
  • There are two a's in accommodation.
  • There are three I's in your sentence.
  • There are five consecutive and's in this sentence: I would like wider spacing between "Rose" and "and" and "and" and "Crown".
Read more about apostrophes to form awkward plurals.
Do not be tempted to put an apostrophe in a word just because it ends in s. For example:
  • Anteater's prefer termite's to ant's.
  • Anteaters prefer termites to ants.
  • Time flie's like an arrow. Fruit fly's like a banana.
  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
Here is a lesson on forming plurals.

Take a test on using apostrophes.

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