by Craig Shrives

What Are Apostrophes?

An apostrophe (') is a punctuation mark used:
  • To replace a missing letter(s). For example:
    • cannot > can't
    • do not > don't
  • To show the possessive form of a noun. For example:
    • dinner of the dog > dog's dinner
    • shoes for women > women's shoes
  • To create time expressions. For example:
    • pay for day > a day's pay
    • holiday for a week > a week's holiday
  • To show an awkward plural. For example:
    • You use the word "and" too much > You use too many and's
    • There are two "m"s in accommodation > There are two M's in accommodation
    • (This is not popular!)
Read more about using apostrophes.

How Apostrophes Are Used

Here is an overview on how apostrophes are used:

(1) 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) To create the possessive form of a noun.

  • The fire fighters' code
  • Women's rights
  • 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) 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) 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".
Bear in mind that using an apostrophe for an awkward plural is not a popular convention, but it is condoned by all the leading grammar references. Read more about apostrophes to form awkward plurals.

Other Punctuation Marks

Here is a slider with lessons to the other punctuation marks:
The apostrophe is a real grammar villain!
Here is the biggest error related to apostrophes:

(Serious Error) Don't use an apostrophe just because your word ends "s."

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. wrong cross
  • Anteaters prefer termites to ants. correct tick
Here is another example:
  • Time flie's like an arrow. Fruit fly's like a banana. wrong cross
  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. correct tick
Read more about forming plurals. Read more about using apostrophes.

Help Us Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?

Find Us Quicker!

  • When using a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing), you will find Grammar Monster quicker if you add #gm to your search term.