The Apostrophe (yawn!)


Apostrophes cause many writers problems. The use of the apostrophe has become so problematic that the British actually have a society for the protection of the apostrophe:

The apostrophe has two uses: 1) to show possession, 2) to take the place of missing letters in contractions.


Make singular nouns possessive by adding apostrophe s to the end of the word

my brother’s lawnmower = the lawnmower of (or belonging to) my brother.

the river’s edge = the edge of the river


Note that the person or thing doing the possessing gets the apostrophe. Unless you can recast the phrase showing possession with “of” or “belonging to,” the apostrophe is wrong.

Simple plurals don’t take apostrophes.

X Computer’s for sale

Make plural nouns that end in s possessive by putting an apostrophe after the s:

          my two brothers’ lawnmowers

Make plural nouns that don’t end in s possessive by putting an apostrophe s on the end.

          the women’s lawnmowers.

Compound nouns like brother-in-law make just the principal noun plural: brothers-in-law. Both the singular and the plural possessives of such nouns are made with an apostrophe s after the final word:

          my brother-in-law’s lawnmower.

          my two brothers-in-law’s lawnmowers

For the singular possessive of names that end in an s sound, you have a choice.

          Mr. Jones’ lawnmower or  Mr. Jones’s lawnmower

The plural possessive of such nouns is regular:

          the Joneses’ lawnmower.

For nouns that jointly possess something, only the second noun is possessive:

Jack and Jill’s lawnmower (The lawnmower  belongs to both of them.)


Jack’s and Jill’s false teeth (They probably don’t share one set of false teeth.)

Sometimes the thing “possessed” is understood

Colbart’s lawnmower is sharper than Cecil’s. (The meaning changes considerably if you don’t make Cecil possessive.)

Periods of time can have a possessive construction:

          one week’s vacation = a vacation of one week

          two weeks’ vacation = a vacation of two weeks.


Use the apostrophe to take the place of missing letters or numbers in contractions:

          it’s (it is), we’re (we are), you’re (you are)  a ’98 Honda (a 1998 Honda)

Change the following phrases into possessive constructions with apostrophes

  1. the pebble collection of Colbart
  2. the hard disks of the computers
  3. the signatures of my mother-in-law and father-in-law.
  4. the toothy smiles of the vampire
  5. the nightmare of every CEO

Rewrite the following as contractions:

  1. have not
  2. you would
  3. he is
  4. the 1987 tornado
  5. let us


Add or delete apostrophes in the following sentences


  1. The declining temperature in Hell seems to indicate that Donald Trump could actually become the Republicans nominee for president.
  2. In all his twenty-three years’ as a bartender, Mort never poured a full shot of whiskey.
  3. Once in the stall, Cecil realized that he had accidentally walked into the ladies room.
  4. Grandma got two years’ off for good behaviour.
  5. The decision isnt their’s to make.


Answers: 1. Colbart’s pebble collection  2. the computers’ hard disks  3. my mother-in-law’s and father-in-law’s signatures 4. the vampire’s toothy smiles 5. every CEO’s nightmare. 6. haven’t   7. you’d  8. he’s  9. ’87 tornado  10. let’s  11. Reublicans’  12. years  13. ladies’ 14. years. 15. isn’t, theirs

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