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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
  • 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) 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:

Why Should I Care about Apostrophes?

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

See Also

Take a test on apostrophes Much more about using apostrophes What is punctuation? What are apostrophes?
What are colons? What are commas? What are dashes? What is ellipsis? What are exclamation marks? What are hyphens? What is a full stop / period? What are parentheses (i.e., brackets)? What are questions marks? What are quotation marks? What are semicolons? Glossary of grammatical terms "Apostrophes for possession" game (Tetris-style game) "Apostrophes in time expressions" game (Tetris-style game)