ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Care and Feeding of Apostrophes

Updated on January 13, 2015

Apostrophes: Where Do They Go?

I'm here today to talk to you about a terrible tragedy that's sweeping our planet. It's not the disappearance of your favorite brands from the store courtesy of those dastardly Brand Police, nor is it the scented kitty litter that makes your pet smell weird.

It's apostrophe abuse.

Those poor, lost, lonely apostrophes: you see them everywhere, looking for love in all the wrong places. Nearly every day, I see another apostrophe being abused or misused, far from where it belongs.

Look at these two sentences:

    No, really?

      No, really!

They mean very different things, don't they? You can't put question marks where exclamation points go, or vice versa.

Punctuation helps us make sense. Yet many people use apostrophes where they don't belong, and forget them where they DO belong. 

English is confusing enough without random apostrophes wandering around! Just like exclamation points and question marks, apostrophes change the meaning of a sentence, depending on where they are used. So I'm going to teach you how to help these poor stray apostrophes find their way home.

Don't worry. You don't have to be a grammar nitpicker or an English teacher to understand these lessons. (But there will be a quiz at the end.)

[Update 6/12]: For a hilarious cartoon, check out The Oatmeal's The Correct Use of the Apostrophe, with velociraptors! (Also, a poster for school teachers.)

The Three Uses of Apostrophes

Apostrophes belong in just three places. That's it!

  1. Contractions.
  2. Possessive Nouns.
  3. Nested Quotations.

Apostrophe Usage Crib Sheet

Print Out This Apostrophe Guide

Apostrophe Usage Quick Reference Sheet

Use Apostrophes with Contractions

Put 'Em Where They Ain't

Contractions are two or more words squished together.

When you squish words together, letters tend to drop out. The apostrophe shows some letters are missing.

For example:

they are --> they're

it is time --> it's time

where did he go? --> where'd he go?

2007 --> '07

could have --> could've

nine of the clock --> nine o' clock

Contractions are informal, so you shouldn't use them in formal research papers or magazine articles. But they show the way people really talk, so they're useful for writing down conversations. Also, they sound more friendly.

Apostrophe Review: Pop Quiz #1 - Apostrophes and Contractions


Something is wrong with this picture. Can you spot the mistake? (Pop quiz answers at bottom of page)


What should the sign say?

See results

Possessive Nouns


Possessive noun? What's that again?

Noun: Well, remember the old song? "A noun is a person, place, or thing."

Possession means ownership, so a possessive noun is a noun that owns another noun. Add 's to the end of a noun to show that it is the owner.

With possessive nouns, the apostrophe shows who owns what.

For example:

the dog's nose

John's car

America's soldiers

in a year's time

women's t-shirts

If you think about it, the apostrophe is indicating missing letters here, too -- namely, the word "of". The dog's nose is short for the nose of the dog.

So one way to check yourself whenever you use an apostrophe with a noun is to ask yourself, "what letters are missing?"

What about words that already end in s?

In that case, just add the apostrophe, not another s.

For example:

my lens' title

And for plurals:

the dogs' noses (This shows that we're talking about more than one dog.)

the Joneses' house

Nitpicky exception:

If a SINGULAR proper name (a capitalized name) ends in s, then add 's even though it looks funny (some writers violate this rule, but by and large, most still follow Strunk & White):

For example:

Tom Jones's tie

Descartes's philosophy

Tom Jone's tie is NOT correct, because his name is Jones not Jone.

What about two names separated by "and"?

Ooooh, you're being nitpicky here, aren't you? Well, just in case it ever comes up, here's what you do.

If you're talking about joint ownership, put the 's after the last owner:

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

But if you're talking about separate ownership, then each owner gets his own 's:

Bill's and Ted's underwear (They're not wearing the same pair of underwear.)

But those are all rare special cases. 90% of the time, add 's to make a noun own another noun. Apostrophe + s means possession, NOT plural.

Apostrophe Review: Pop Quiz #2 - Apostrophes and Possession


Something is wrong with this picture. Can you spot the mistake?


What should the sign say?

See results

Nested Quotes

He Said That She Said...

Double quotation marks show that you're writing down what somebody said.

What if your narrator is reporting what

somebody else said?

Then you use double quotes for the outer quote, and single quotes for the inner one:

"You know," Jane said, "This is where Han Solo would say, 'I have a bad feeling about this.'"

In nested quotes, single quotes enclose a remark heard secondhand.

Just to be confusing, in older books published in Britain, you'll see it the other way around: the single quotes may go around the outer, main quotation, and the double quotes then go around the inner one. Nowadays, most British writers follow the rule I gave above.

Nitpicker's note: Technically, single quotes and apostrophes are not quite the same beastie. The former are used for quotes, the latter to indicate possession or a dropped letter. But we usually use the same punctuation mark for both, so I cover them here.

Apostrophe Review: Pop Quiz #3 - A common mistake on shop signs


Something is wrong with this picture. Can you spot the mistake?


What should the sign say?

See results

Places Where Apostrophes Do NOT Belong

So that's it!

Now you know the three places where apostrophes belong:

  1. Contractions

  2. Possessive Nouns

  3. Nested Quotes

I'm almost afraid to mention common mistakes, because I don't want to remind you of errors you see every day. However, it's worth pointing out the potholes so you can steer clear of them.

There are two places where apostrophes do not belong, but a lot of people don't realize it:

  1. Plural Nouns

  2. Possessive Pronouns

Plural Nouns

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Ordinary plural nouns -- nouns showing there's more than one of something -- end in s. JUST S. No apostrophe. I repeat, no apostrophe.

cats means more than one cat.

butterflies means more than one butterfly.

Americans means more than one American.

PhDs means more than one PhD.

CDs means more than one CD.

Also, this is correct: dos and don'ts


cat's means ONE cat which has something. For example, the cat's toy.

butterfly's means ONE butterfly which has something. For example, the butterfly's wing.

butterflies' means more than one butterfly is the owner. For example, the butterflies' habitat.

See the difference?

An apostrophe + s shows ownership.*

No apostrophe means a plural noun.If you can remember that, you'll be taking good care of your apostrophes. If you don't, you'll mix up different things, and then no one can tell what you're saying!

*It usually shows ownership. However, like I said, apostrophes are also used in contractions, two words squished together. SO 's is also used to indicate a contraction with the word is, for example, "Someone's knocking at the door." It's still not a plural noun.

Apostrophe Review: Pop Quiz #4 - Apostrophes and Plurals


Something is wrong with this picture. Can you spot the mistake?

Pick your answer in the poll, then hover your cursor over the picture or check the bottom of the page for a full explanation.


What should the sign say?

See results

Possessive Pronouns

My, Your, His, Her, Our, Your, Their

Pronouns are short little words that stand in for a noun. For example:, he, she, their, his, hers, me, your, they, your.

Some of these words are possessive pronouns. These are special little words that already mean "the owner of something else." Possessive pronouns do not need an apostrophe. Unlike regular nouns, possessive pronouns have the idea of ownership built-in.

For example:

She used to use that perfume, until her boyfriend told her he didn't like its scent.

Let's go over to your house.

Contractions DO use apostrophes, as I explained earlier:

You're looking sad.

It's time to go.

Do you see the difference?

You're = a contraction for you are

your = a possessive pronoun meaning "belonging to you"

it's = a contraction for it is

its = a possessive pronoun meaning "belonging to it"

If you get those two things mixed up, nobody can tell which one you mean.

Finally, there's a funny form of the possessive pronoun that ends in s.

Look at this:

We went to her house. That drink is hers.

I like your shoes. I'm all yours.

Her is an adjective, hers is a noun. But don't worry about that. Your brain knows which one to use where, even if you can't remember why. The point is, NEITHER one uses an apostrophe.

All you need to know is: Possessive pronouns don't use apostrophes.

Apostrophe Review: Pop Quiz #5 - Apostrophes and Contractions


Something is wrong with this picture. Can you spot the mistake?


What should the sign say?

See results


Click the underlined links to open each photo in a spare window.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)