How to use Apostrophes

1. The apostrophe ( ' ) has two functions. It indicates both the possessive case and contractions. This might seem simple, but it causes a lot of problems. It should NEVER be used to indicate the plural case.

2. The Possessive Case
We can say either The whiskers of the cat , or the cat's whiskers. This is the possessive case, when something belongs to somebody or something else.

3. When the possessor is single we indicate possession by using an apostrophe followed by the letter "s":

The man's coat      my sister's hat.

4. When the possessors are plural, the apostrophe is placed after the final "s":

The girls' bicycles      my cousins' parents.

5. When names end with the letter "s", either use is acceptable:

James' wife    or    James's wife.

(It is often said that the choice between the two should be made on how the word is pronounced.)

6. The apostrophe is never used with possessive pronouns:

his, hers, its ours, yours, theirs

But it is used with "one": One must do one's best.

7. Many shops and business concerns these days omit the apostrophe from their titles:

Barclays Bank      Coopers Wines.

8. Note that the apostrophe is not required where a word has been formed by omitting its first part:

bus     NOT     'bus

phone     NOT     'phone

9. No apostrophe should be used in the plural form of numbers and dates:

in the 1920s      the roaring twenties

10. The possessive of classical names ending in es is often formed by the apostrophe alone:

Demosthenes' speeches
Sophocles' plays
Xerxes' campaigns

11. French names ending in an unpronounced s or x follow the normal rule, taking an apostrophe and an s:

Rabelais's comedy      Malraux's novels


In formal prose we would write She has told him, but when speaking we would say She's told him. The apostrophe is used to indicate the missing letters.

1. I am (I'm) - He is (he's) - You are (You're).

2. Note the difference between it's (it is) and its (belonging to it).

3. Notice too that the term its' does not exist.

4. It's may also be a contraction of "it has" - "It's been a pleasure meeting you".


1. When items are described by an acronym or an abbreviation, there should not be an apostrophe to denote the plural:

MP (military police)     sixteen MPs

PC (personal computer)     a network of PCs

MB (megabyte)     100 MB

2. But the apostrophe should be used in any expression which includes an element of possession:

MPs' salaries     a PC's capacity

3. The apostrophe is not normally used after a noun which has an adjectival rather than a possessive sense

ladies toilet     Rates Office     students union

4. Plural cases are NOT indicated with an apostrophe, even when the item is an acronym or an abbreviation, see above.

One PC (Police Constable)    Two PCs

One house    Two houses

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