What possessed us to write a grammar guide to apostrophes? After seeing the umpteenth inappropriately placed apostrophe, the expert proofreaders at Writer’s Relief wanted to share a few tips about when to use this punctuation mark and how to get it right every time. Whether you want to indicate possession or the omission of letters or numbers, here’s a concise, easy-to-use grammar guide to apostrophes.
A Grammar Guide To Apostrophes
Before we talk about apostrophes, we should talk about nouns and the differences between singular and plural nouns.
Noun: A word that names a person, place, or thing.
Singular noun: Names one person, place, or thing. Some examples are: balloon, bathroom, narwhal, telephone.
Plural noun: Names more than one person, place, or thing. Note that these may or may not end in s! Some examples are: saxophones, theaters, people, teeth.
Apostrophes are commonly used when you want to indicate that a noun possesses or owns something.
Possessive Nouns: When To Add An Apostrophe Plus An S
- Singular nouns that don’t end in s (or an s sound): Simply add an apostrophe plus the letter s to the end of the word.
Examples: the writer’s pen, the father’s joke, the building’s elevator
Bonus example: Nathan’s habit of singing opera in the morning surprised his neighbors.
- Singular nouns that do end in s (Part I): This is where proper apostrophe usage becomes less clear. For nouns that end in s, you can add an apostrophe plus an s added to indicate possession—or not. Let’s first consider examples adding the apostrophe and an s.
Examples: the boss’s optimism, the seamstress’s thimble, the dress’s hem
Bonus example: The witness’s report stated the neighbors took Nathan’s megaphone.
- Plural nouns that do not end in an s (or es): To make plural nouns that do not end in s possessive, use an apostrophe plus an s at the end of the word.
Examples: the men’s race, the geese’s pond, the children’s playground
Bonus example: Shannon and Kayla hid the megaphone in the women’s restroom.
Possessive Nouns: When To Add An Apostrophe On Its Own
- Singular nouns that do end in an s (Part II): Remember, for nouns that end in s, you can either add an apostrophe plus an s to indicate possession OR you can just put an apostrophe at the end of the word. Using just an apostrophe on its own is useful for instances where adding an s makes the word difficult to pronounce. What constitutes “difficult to pronounce”? That’s up to you—try reading your writing out loud as a test!
Examples: Mr. Jones’ porch, Texas’ shoreline, the United States’ policy
Bonus example: The walrus’ new toothbrush was missing.
- Plural nouns that do end in an s (or s sound): For a plural noun that ends in s, es, or an s sound, do not add an additional s to the end to indicate possession. Add only an apostrophe.
Examples: the trees’ leaves, the Smiths’ music, the surgeons’ tools
Bonus example: His parents’ shock was evident when a giant toothbrush was found under Desmond’s bed.
Other Instances Of Possessive Nouns
- Multiple people possessing multiple objects: When indicating that two separate people own two separate things (or any other multiple!), add an apostrophe and s at end of each name.
Example: Cathe’s and Vince’s cupcakes. This indicates that Cathe and Vince each have their own cupcake. (You’ll deserve a cupcake too, after reading this article!)
Another example: William’s, Christina’s, and Pat’s tubas. This indicates that there are three separate tubas: William’s tuba, Christina’s tuba, and Pat’s tuba.
Bonus sentence: Seems unfair that some people get tasty cupcakes and others get tubas.
- Joint possession: If multiple people possess the same object, you indicate ownership only to the last name listed. This rule is the same whether singular or plural things are owned.
Example: Ronnie and Anita’s car. This signifies that Ronnie and Anita both own the one car.
Bonus example: Ronnie and Anita’s car had “Just Married” painted on the back window.
- Possessive statements with a pronoun involved. If one of the owners is represented by a pronoun (their, his, her, my, our), make each name and pronoun possessive on its own. This is true whether the nouns and pronouns are singular or plural, and whether they’re possessing jointly or separately.
Examples: Daniel’s and my hedgehog (not Daniel and my hedgehog)
The kids’ and my toys (not the kids and my toys)
Brett’s, Glory’s, and my sledgehammer (not Brett, Glory, and my sledgehammer)
- Making pronouns possessive. Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. They can be made possessive just like regular nouns. However, possessive pronouns don’t use apostrophes at all!
Examples: his, hers, theirs, my, its, ours, whose, yours.
Bonus example: Wynonna told Rashell the sledgehammer was really hers.
- Making an acronym possessive. An acronym is formed by putting together the first initials of the word in that phrase, and pronouncing the result as its own word (e.g., NASA). When you want to turn an acronym into a possessive, first ask yourself whether that acronym represents a singular or plural noun.
For an acronym representing a singular noun, add an apostrophe plus an s to the end. Examples: the FDA’s label, the UK’s queen, the PhD’s presentation.
For an acronym representing a plural noun, add an apostrophe only to the end. Examples: the MDs’ prescriptions, the ATMs’ buttons.
Bonus example: Wendy threw the sledgehammer so high, it showed up on NORAD’s radar. This made it difficult for Hermine to catch.
Apostrophes In Contractions
Apostrophes are also used to shorten a word into a contraction (and designates where letters have been removed) or to show where numbers have been omitted.
Examples: Do not becomes don’t. Madam becomes ma’am. 1960 becomes ’60.
Bonus example: Ma’am, please don’t throw sledgehammers.
If you’re still unsure about proper apostrophe placement, the proofreading experts at Writer’s Relief can help with professional formatting and proofreading. So, when Erinn visits Catherine and parks her car in Jill and Ben’s driveway, which is next to the Joneses’ house and across the street from Dave’s and Cathy’s apartments, you’ll have no trouble at all conveying that information to your reader!
Question: Which of these tips do you find most helpful?