Apostrophes before S (with Examples)

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Apostrophe before S

This page is about when to use an apostrophe before the letter s.

As you probably already know, apostrophes are used for possession. For example:
  • The cat's dinner.
  • The cats' dinner.
The big question with an apostrophe used for possession is whether to put your apostrophe before the letter s or after the letter s.

Here's the rule (using the example above):
If there is one cat, the apostrophe goes before the s.
If there is more than one cat, the apostrophe goes after the s.

What's the Possessor?

In the examples above, the cat (or cats) is known as the possessor. The possessor is the thing that owns whatever follows. (Be aware that the word owns is used in a very loose sense. The possessive apostrophe is not always about possession or ownership.) Now we know the word possessor, we can say the rule properly:
If the possessor is singular, the apostrophe goes before the s.
If the possessor is plural, the apostrophe goes after the s.
Note: Your decision on where to put the apostrophe only depends on the number of possessors. The number of things being possessed is irrelevant. For example:
  • The cat's dinner.
  • (one cat, one dinner)
  • The cat's dinners.
  • (one cat, lot of dinners)
  • The cats' dinner.
  • (lots of cats, one dinner)
  • The cats' dinners.
  • (lots of cats, lots of dinners)
The only things that matters is how many cats there are. The number of dinners is irrelevant.

Exceptions to the Rule with Possessive Apostrophes

Unfortunately, there are some exceptions to the rule above.

Plural Words Not Ending in S

With plural words that do not end in s (e.g., people, men, children), you put the apostrophe before the s (as though they were singular words). For example:
  • He is the people's poet.
  • All television is children's television. (Richard P. Adler)
Singular Words Not Ending in S

With singular words that end in s (e.g., Wales, Paris, Moses), you can add ' (i.e., just an apostrophe) or 's.

For example:
  • It is Charles' birthday.
  • It is Charles's birthday.
  • (Both versions are correct.)
Read more about apostrophe for possession.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Using apostrophes Apostrophes for possession Apostrophe placement rules Apostrophe after s Apostrophe after z Apostrophes for awkward plurals Apostrophes after acronyms and abbreviations Apostrophes in contractions Apostrophes in expressions like 2 years' pay and a day's notice Apostrophes used incorrectly for plurals Apostrophe exercises Apostrophes in names Apostrophe misuse Apostrophes in contractions How do you write master's degree and bachelor's degree? Using brackets and parentheses Using colons Using commas Using dashes Using hyphens Using quotation marks Using semicolons