Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

Using Apostrophes to Replace Missing Letters (Grammar Lesson)

The Quick Answer
An apostrophe can be used to replace a letter (or letters). For example:

  • isn't (from is not)
  • don't (from do not)
  • can't (from cannot)
When this happens, a new word (called a contraction) is formed.

Apostrophes Replace Missing Letters

An apostrophe can be used to show that a letter (or letters) is missing from a word.

Using an apostrophe to replace a missing letter is not common in formal writing, where you'd expect all words to be written in full. (Using an apostrophe to replace a letter is extremely common, but it is generally reserved for informal writing. It is used to reflect how people speak.)

  • The weather's bad.
  • (Written in full: The weather is bad.)
    (In this example, the apostrophe replaces the letter i, and the two words are joined to make one. The new word is called contraction.)

  • Don't think about it.
  • (In full: Do not)
    In this example, the apostrophe replaces the letter o, and the two words are joined to make a contraction.)

Apostrophe error found in a Christmas cracker
  • Alan can't deliver on Tuesdays.
  • (In full: cannot)
  • If you don't fail now and again, it's a sign you're playing it safe. (Woody Allen)
  • (In full: do not / it is / you are)
  • Don't look now, but there's one too many in this room, and I think it's you. (Groucho Marx)
  • (In full: do not / there is / it is)
  • Blood's not thicker than money. (Groucho Marx)
  • (In full: blood is)
  • Sally is'nt able to complete her work.
  • (Should be: isn't)

Only Use Apostrophes to Replace Letters in Standard Contractions

When an apostrophe replaces a letter, a new word is formed (most often, but not always, using the remaining letters of the original words). The new word is called a contraction.

You cannot invent your own contractions. Here is a list of common contractions in English:

aren'tare not
couldn'tcould not
didn'tdid not
doesn'tdoes not
don'tdo not
hadn'thad not
hasn'thas not
haven'thave not
he'dhe had, he would
he'llhe will, he shall
he'she is, he has
I'dI had, I would
I'llI will, I shall
I'mI am
I'veI have
isn'tis not
it'sit is, it has
let'slet us
mustn'tmust not
shan'tshall not
she'dshe had, she would
she'llshe will, she shall
she'sshe is, she has
shouldn'tshould not
that'sthat is, that has
there'sthere is, there has
they'dthey had, they would
they'llthey will, they shall
they'rethey are
they'vethey have
we'dwe had, we would
we'rewe are
we'vewe have
weren'twere not
what'llwhat will, what shall
what'rewhat are
what'swhat is, what has
what'vewhat have
where'swhere is, where has
who'dwho had, who would
who'llwho will, who shall
who'rewho are
who'swho is, who has
who'vewho have
won'twill not
wouldn'twould not
you'dyou had, you would
you'llyou will, you shall
you'reyou are
you'veyou have

Do Not Confuse You're and Your

You're is short for you are. For example:
  • You're a naughty boy.
  • The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. (Lily Tomlin)
Your is not short for you are. It is used to show possession. For example:
  • This is your PC.
  • This is you're PC.
  • Your a star.
  • (This should be you're.)
Read more on you're and your.

Do Not Confuse It's and Its

It's is short for it has or it is. (There are no other uses.) For example:
  • It's stopped raining, and it's sunny.
  • (It has stopped raining, and it is sunny.)
Its, on the other hand, is similar to his and her and is used to show possession. For example:
  • I'm near the whale. I can see its tail.
  • This is it's fourth journey.
  • This should be its.)
  • Its as easy as falling off a log.
  • This should be It's.)
  • A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. (Winston Churchill)
Read more about it's and its.

Do Not Write Should Of

Should've sounds like should of, but it is short for should have. (This is the same for could've and would've.)
  • should of
  • could of
  • would of

Write Cannot As One Word

As an expansion of can't, cannot is one word.
  • I can not stand in the rain for too long.
  • A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. (Oscar Wilde)
Although rare, it is possible to see can and not as two separate words. However, this is not usually an expansion of can't.
  • Rebecca can not only sing but dance too.
(Note: There is a lot of leniency on this ruling. Many like to use can not over cannot for added emphasis.)

There Is No Apostrophe in Ours

Words like ours, theirs, yours, and hers do not have apostrophes in them.
  • These books are ours.
  • You can use our's.
  • I saw theirs'.
These are called absolute possessives.
Top Tip

DO Not Invent Contractions

Words with apostrophes that replace letters are known as contractions. You should only use recognized ones:
  • g'tar
  • (replacing the ui in guitar)
  • potato's
  • (replacing the e in potatoes)

Write Contractions in Full in Business Writing

In business writing, it is unusual to use contractions because they can make your writing look too informal. It is a good practice to play it safe and write all words in their full forms.
  • Therefore, the delivery date can't be met.
  • (Not wrong but possibly too informal)
  • It's available for collection on Tuesday.
  • (Not wrong but possibly too informal)