Rules for Using Apostrophes

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In Brief...

Apostrophes are used to show possession or omission.


  1. When writing contractions, place the apostrophe where the letter or letters are omitted. Examples: won't, can't, you're wrong, he's a great dentist.
  2. Singular possession requires an apostrophe before the "s." Examples: cat's dish, Bob's pen, Marco's book.
  3. To show plural possession, first make the word plural and then add an apostrophe. Examples: three cats' dishes, six men's shoes, five dogs' bones.
  4. Do not use an apostrophe to show that a name is plural or with possessive pronouns. For example, it is incorrect to write: "Sincerely your's" or "We saw the Martin's at the movie."
  5. When writing capital letters and numbers as nouns, do not use an apostrophe. Examples: He earned two MBAs. We looked up the 1960s in the encyclopedia. That happened in the mid '90s.
  6. When the contraction for "it is" is written, it looks like this: "it's." The possessive form (its) is the exception to the rule of using an apostrophe to show possession.
  7. Other exceptions occur in cases in which not using the apostrophe will cause confusion. For example: "There were six i's in the paragraph." Without the apostrophe it would look like this: "There were six is in the paragraph."

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Author: Janie Sullivan

Janie Sullivan, MBA, MAEd, has been teaching adult learners for over 20 years. She has taught online over 15 years, specializing in writing, communications, and small business applications. Janie directs the Center for Writing Excellence where she offers writing, editing, and formatting services for writers. She has been published in several newspapers and magazines as well as multiple online sites. She teaches communication, business strategy, leadership, and management courses. Janie has published a book "Develop and Deliver an Online Class." This is the third book she has written about writing and teaching online. She also has published a novel and an anthology of short stories.