Using ApostrophesApostrophes have four uses:
(1) To show possession.
- a dog's kennel
- our boys' bedroom
- a day's pay
- two weeks' holiday
- There are three big if's.
- Hawaii has two i's.
Apostrophes are not used:
(1) To show normal plurals.
- three cat's
- two video's
- Time flie's like an arrow. Fruit flie's like a banana.
- He like's pies.
More about Using ApostrophesThis page covers the rules for using apostrophes. It also has six useful resources for learning about apostrophes, including two videos, an interactive widget, an infographic, a slide show, and links to some exercises.
(1) Using Apostrophes for Possession
- The dog's kennel
- The dogs' kennel
The big question is whether to put the apostrophe before the "s" or after the "s." The basic rules are as follows:
- One dog's dinner
- One dog's dinners
- Two dogs' dinner
- Two dogs' dinners
An exception to the rule: plural words that don't end "s"
The most notable exception is when the plural doesn't end in "s" (e.g., "children," "women," "people," "men"). These words have the apostrophe before the "s" (even though they're plural). For example:
- children's toys
- women's hat (Here's another issue. It's not always about possession. This means a hat for women. Similarly, "Picasso's painting" is a painting by Picasso. He doesn't own it. Sometimes, it's about "possession" in the loosest terms.)
- people's poet
- men's sizes
Another quirk is that singular nouns ending "s" (e.g., "Wales," "Moses," "John Wells") form their possessive forms either by adding ' (just an apostrophe) or 's depending on how you (personally) say the possessive form. For example:
- John Wells' report (This is correct. It is used by those who would say "John Wells report" as opposed to "John Wellsiz report.")
- John Wells's report (This is also correct. It is used by those who would say "John Wellsiz report.")
Are You Good at Possessive Apostrophes?Here's a quick test.
(2) Using Apostrophes in Time Expressions
The big question with these is where to put the apostrophe. The ruling is quite simple: the apostrophe goes before the "s" for a single unit of time (e.g., one day's pay) and after the "s" when it's more than one (e.g., two days' pay).
- I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun. (Inventor Thomas Edison)
- It's not worth it for just two minutes' pleasure.
- I live a stone's throw away.
- a year's insurance (a year "of" insurance)
- two weeks' holiday (two weeks "of" holiday)
(3) Using Apostrophes to Replace Letters in Contractions
- When I was born I was so surprised I didn't talk for a year and a half. (Comedian Gracie Allen)
- Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep. (Author Fran Lebowitz)
Read more on apostrophes replacing letters
(4) Using Apostrophes in Awkward Plurals
- There are two i's in skiing.
- You use too many but's in your writing.
- There are two Is in skiing.
- You use too many "but"s in your writing.
Read more on apostrophes used to show unusual plurals
Using Apostrophes Incorrectly with Plurals
This mistake is most commonly seen when people form the plurals of nouns, but it happens with verbs too; e.g., He eat's pies.
- I like pig's. Dog's look up to us. Cat's look down on us. Pig's treat us as equal's. (These are all wrong.)
- I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as
- A spoken word is not a sparrow. Once it fly's out, you cannot catch it. (This mistake is sometimes made with verbs too. This should be "flies.")
- Tomato's and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French; garlic makes it good. (This mistake is particularly common when forming the plural of a noun which ends in a vowel (e.g., video's , banana's ). It should be "tomatoes" in this example.)
Interactive ExerciseHere 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.
More Resources to Help with Apostrophes
(Resource 1) A Summarizing VideoHere is a video summarizing the use of apostrophes:
(Resource 2) Possessive Apostrophes (A Neat Trick)Here is a short video summarizing how to use possessive apostrophes:
(Resource 3) An Infographic Explaining the HistoryThis infographic explains the history behind the possessive apostrophe. It really helps!
(This page covers the possessive form of compound nouns and joint ownership.)