Apostrophe Misuse (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

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Apostrophe Misuse

Apostrophe misuse usually falls into one of the following four categories:

(1) Using an apostrophe for a plural.
  • We have a two-for-one offer on banana's.
  • We have a two-for-one offer on bananas.
(2) Misplacing a possessive apostrophe.
  • The boys' nose was covered in chocolate.
  • The boy's nose was covered in chocolate.
(3) Misplacing an apostrophe in a contraction.
  • Your idea is'nt possible.
  • Your idea isn't possible.
(4) Inventing a contraction.
  • You shouldn't've done it.
  • You should not've done it.
  • You shouldn't have done it.
apostrophe misuse

More about These Apostrophe Misuses

(Misuse 1) Do Not Use an Apostrophe to Form a Plural Noun

Do not use an apostrophe to form a plural. (It is considered a serious misuse of the apostrophe.) For example:
  • Dog's look up to us, and cat's look down on us. I prefer pig's because they treat us as equal's.
  • (These are all wrong.)
  • Dogs look up to us, and cats look down on us. I prefer pigs because they treat us as equals.
This error is commonly seen with an abbreviation or a noun that ends in a vowel.
  • Two CD's for the price of one
  • two video's
  • two patio's
When an apostrophe is misused in this way, it is known as a greengrocer's apostrophe. This terms comes from the tendency of greengrocers to misuse apostrophes on their signs (e.g., apple's, banana's). Read about the rules for forming plurals.
Read about using apostrophes for awkward plurals.

(Misuse 2) When Using an Apostrophe for Possession, Put It on the Correct Side of the S

Here are some examples of possessive apostrophes being misused:
  • My smallest dogs' nose is white.
  • Both of my dog's noses are white.
  • Support our childrens' education.
The big question with a possessive apostrophe is whether to put the apostrophe before the "s" or after the "s."

Here's the general rule for nouns that form their plural by adding an "s" or "es," which is most of them:

General Rule for Possessive Apostrophe Placement

If the possessor is singular, the apostrophe goes before the s.
  • the country's problems
If the possessor is plural, the apostrophe goes after the s.
  • the countries' problems
Here are some more examples:
  • The cat's dinner (for one cat)
  • The cats' dinner (for more than one cat)
  • (It does not matter whether "dinner" is singular or plural. It has no influence whatsoever on the apostrophe.)
  • I live a stone's throw away. (for one stone)
  • The stones' history is fascinating. (for more than one stone)
The possessor is the thing that owns whatever follows. In the first example, the possessor is "cat." In the second, it is "cats." (Be aware that the word "owns" is used in a loose sense. The possessive apostrophe is not always about possession or ownership.) Read more about the possessive case. Unfortunately, there are a few more rules on possessive-apostrophe placement:

The Last Two Rules for Possessive Apostrophe Placement

If a plural noun does not end in "s" (e.g., children, people), then the apostrophe comes before the "s" in the possessive form.
  • the children's classroom
If a singular noun ends in "s" (e.g., Jones, Moses), then the possessive form can be shown by adding just ' or 's.
  • Jones' report , or
  • Jones's report
Read more about apostrophes used for possession.
Do some exercises on using apostrophes.

(Misuse 3) When Forming a Contraction, Put the Apostrophe in the Correct Place

When forming a contraction, make sure you use the apostrophe to replace the missing letter(s). It's not a common mistake, but it's a bad mistake. For example:
  • Your answer is'nt accurate.
  • Your'e going to pay for that!

(Misuse 4) Do Not Invent Your Own Contractions

Apostrophes can be used to replace letters to form contractions (e.g., can't, don't, isn't, shan't). There is a list of acceptable contractions. You cannot invent your own ones. For example:
  • I wouldn't've gone if I had known.
  • Can you play the g'tar?

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See Also

Using apostrophes Apostrophes for possession Apostrophe placement rules Apostrophe after s Apostrophe after z Apostrophe before s 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 Apostrophes in contractions Using brackets and parentheses Using colons Using commas Using dashes Using hyphens Using quotation marks Using semicolons "Apostrophes for possession" game (Tetris-style game) "Apostrophes in time expressions" game (Tetris-style game)

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