How to use an Apostrophe

16 Dec

ADVENT DAY SIXTEEN: To celebrate advent, I’ll be adding new content to this blog every day in the countdown to Christmas; reviews, opinion pieces, short stories… that sort of thing! So make sure you pop back in between shopping, packing presents and nursing a headache.

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Shortened forms of English.

An apostrophe is used to show that words have been shortened.

Commonly used contractions:

It’s = it is or it has.

We’ll = we will or we shall.

Who’s = who is or who has.

Won’t = will not.

O’clock = of the clock.

In informal text – particularly scripts – apostrophes are used to show particular dialects or conversational.

eg. I s’pose = I suppose.

Contractions are different from “Clipped forms,” which are established words derived from a longer word. These do not need apostrophes.

Commonly used Clipped forms

Flu = Influenza.

Gym = Gymnasium.


Has it been shortened?

What is the established use?

Is it a colloquialism?

Is it a clipped form?


–          An apostrophe is only used in the word it’s when it is shortened from either it is or it has.


A possession.

An apostrophe, followed by a ‘s’ (‘s) is used to show that someone is in possession of something.

eg. Lisa’s saxophone = saxophone belonging to Lisa.

The same rule applies to names that end with an ‘s’, though traditionally, we just add an apostrophe. Generally, ‘classical’ names that end with an ‘s’ need an apostrophe, while more modern names require an apostrophe followed by an ‘s.’

eg. Ulysses’ wife.

Chris’s friends.


Is it owned by someone?

Does the word make sense without the –‘s?


–          Pronouns do not need apostrophes (his, ours, these).

–          The word must make sense without the –‘s.

eg. Ladie’s is wrong because Ladie is not a word.

–          Remember that it’s is only used when meaning it is or it has, otherwise use its. Its’ is not a word, despite what ‘spelling check’ says!


More than one of something.

An ‘-‘s’ is added to possessive plurals that do not already end with an ‘s.

eg. The women’s dresses.

Possessive plurals that end with an –s have an apostrophe at the end, after the ‘s.’

eg. The girls’ shoes.

Do not use an apostrophe in the plurals of names.

eg. Keeping up with the Joneses.

Plurals of letters need an apostrophe.

eg. How many s’s are in ‘possesses’?

Apostrophes are not needed in plurals of abbreviations (1990s). America differs from this, preferring to add an apostrophe (1990’s).

Use your own judgement when pluralising numbers.

eg. 6’s and 9’s/ Sixes and nines/ 6s and 9s.


Is it owned by more than one person?

Does it end in a ‘s?’

Is it a name?

Am I writing for an English or American audience?

What looks best on a page and is easiest to read?


–          Omissions of figures in, for example, dates should be replaced by an apostrophe.

eg. “If you can remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there.”

FURTHER READING: Penguin Guide to Punctuation by R.L. Trask;

Eats, shoots and leaves by Lynne Truss;


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