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Apostrophe Rules

The use of apostrophes in English punctuation covers three key rules: possessive nouns, contractions, plurals.

Possessive

The first use of the apostrophe is in the possessive forms of nouns. The basic rules of use are similar for all academic papers' styles, but the Associated Press style is different.

1. The possessive form of the singular noun is formed by adding an apostrophe and the letter 's' at the end of the word, regardless of the noun's ending.
Examples:
  • ✔️ neighbor's dog
  • ✔️ John's ID
  • ✔️ dad's wallet
  • ✔️ singer's first album
  • ✔️ someone's phrase
  • ✔️ China's strategy
  • ✔️ Aristotle's book
  • ✔️ woman's diary
  • ✔️ cashier's gaze
2. You can form the plural of the possessive form of a noun by adding an apostrophe if the noun ends with the letter 's.'
Examples:
  • ✔️ managers' position
  • ✔️ parents' advice
  • ✔️ farmers' protest
  • ✔️ strangers' attention
  • ✔️ the Fletchers' car
  • ✔️ the girls' football team
  • ✔️ two weeks' vacation
3. If the plural form of a noun ends in other letters, you need to add an apostrophe and
the letter 's.'
Examples:
  • ✔️ women's room
  • ✔️ children's game
  • ✔️ the Sapolsky's guest house

Individual or Shares Possessions

Indicate joint possessions with a single apostrophe.

Examples:

  • ✔️ This lecture will include Milgram and Foster's psychology textbook.
  • ✔️ Stacey and Luc's house was wonderful.

You should indicate individual possession with separate apostrophes for each possessor.

Examples:

  • ✔️ Spain's and Austria's sanctions are stopped.
  • ✔️ Anna's and Beth's apartments are in the same building.

Exceptions

1. Nouns that have a plural form, denoting the singular number or phrase with the last word in the plural form ending in 's' only use an apostrophe. You don't need to add a second letter 's.'
Examples:
  • ✔️ Juniper Hills' mayor
  • ✔️ Ramco Systems' CEO
  • ✔️ the Scorpions' first video
  • ✔️ Aerial Acres' district
2. Leave it as it is if the proper noun already has a possessive form.
Examples:
  • ✔️ Wendy's restaurants present a new summer menu.
  • ✔️ The profit of Domino's Pizza and Dunkin' Donuts increased last month.
3. If the noun has the ‘-s’ sound in the end and when the word ‘sake’ follows them, you should use the only apostrophe.
Examples:
  • ✔️ for art's sake
  • ✔️ for old times' sake
  • ✔️ for society's sake
  • ✔️ for Joshua's sake
  • ✔️ for Heaven's sake

Contractions

Be careful with contractions! Formal writing rarely allows for contractions, especially in academic writing. Therefore, when writing papers, be attentive to the instructions and guidelines. However, in various forms of texts, avoidance of contractions can make the syllable as formalized and pompous as possible.

The apostrophe in contractions denotes missing letters. The most common contractions consist of verbs, modal or auxiliaries, attached to other words.

⚪ Contraction ⚪ Meaning
ain't am not
aren't are not
can't cannot
couldn't could not
didn't did not
doesn't does not
don't do not
everybody's everybody is
everyone's everyone is
hadn't had not
he'll he will
he's he has / he is
here's here is
I'd I had
I'm I am
let's let us
mustn't must not
they'll they will
we've we have
won't will not
you've you have

Plurals

Apostrophes are rarely used with plurals, but you still need to know the rules not to make mistakes when writing an essay. A rare exception is the use of letters, words, or certain abbreviations as nouns. If you can avoid confusion or misreading without using an apostrophe, it is best not to use it.

Example

  • ✔️ He got two B's and three A's.
  • ✔️ My boss fired two M.D.'s.
  • ✔️ You should dot all of yours i's in the sentences.
  • ✔️ Do they have more yes's or no's?

Exercises

Punctuate the following sentences with apostrophes according to the rules, and use 's where is needed.

  • The father documents were missing.
  • I found a book in Sara home.
  • Tiffany husband bought a new car.
  • In two weeks time they have to begin classes again.
  • He couldnt remember where he saw the keys last time.
  • My phone number has two 5s, and Ann phone number has three 4s.
  • The weather was so good, so weve decided to go to the river in Sam car.
  • The Sun waves lay over Maria shoulders.
  • Didnt he tell you that Dan parents are leaving tomorrow?
  • Luc found himself putting three m in the word common.

Answers:

  1. The father's documents were missing.
  2. I found a book in Sara's home.
  3. Tiffany's husband bought a new car.
  4. In two weeks' time they have to begin classes again.
  5. He couldn't remember where he saw the keys last time.
  6. My phone number has two 5s', and Ann's phone number has three 4s'.
  7. The weather was so good, so we've decided to go to the river in Sam's car.
  8. The Sun's waves lay over Maria's shoulders.
  9. Didn't he tell you that Dan's parents are leaving tomorrow?
  10. Luc found himself putting three m's in the word common.

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