The Rules on Using Apostrophes (Grammar Lesson)

The Quick Answer
Apostrophes can be used:
  • To replace missing letters (e.g., can't, isn't)
  • To show possession (e.g., dog's kennel, dogs' kennel)
  • In temporal expressions (e.g., three months' wages)
  • To show awkward plurals (e.g., 6's and 7's)

The Rules on When to Use Apostrophes

The rules on using apostrophes can be summarised: Unless it is covered by one of the categories above, an apostrophe should not be used.

The Most Common Mistake with Apostrophes

Lots of words in English end in the letter s. This happens for one of three reasons:
  • It's a plural (e.g., cats, houses, dreams).
  • It's a verb ending (e.g., he flies, she bakes, it likes).
  • It's a singular noun that ends in s (e.g., Wales, crisis, humous).
You will notice that not one of the examples in the three bullets above has an apostrophe in it. This is correct. Do not add an apostrophe to a word just because it ends in s. That is a serious mistake.

  • Anteater's prefer termite's to ant's.
  • Anteaters prefer termites to ants.
  • Pearl's melt in vinegar.
  • Pearls melt in vinegar.
  • She flie's to New York tomorrow.
  • She flies to New York tomorrow.
  • Will you see Charle's after this meeting?
  • Will you see Charles after this meeting?
The plurals of words ending in vowels (e.g., video, patio) are extremely prone to this error.
  • Hire two video's for the price of three.
  • Hire two videos for the price of three.

Putting an apostrophe before the s in a plural word is a very common mistake and is considered a grammatical howler.

See Also

Using apostrophes The apostrophe error with plurals Apostrophes in time (temporal) expressions Apostrophes replace letters Apostrophes to show the plural of abbreviations Apostrophes show possession Mother's/Mothers' Day, Father's/Fathers' Day, Veteran's/Veterans' Day, Manager's/Managers' Meeting, Chief Executive's/Chief Executives' Meeting