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Punctuation Rules for Apostrophes in Written English

ApostrophesPunctuation marks are a convention of written language that ensure the clarity of writing for both readers and writers. There are three punctuation rules for using apostrophes as punctuation marks in written American English:

  1. Possessive nouns
  2. Contractions and omissions
  3. Pluralized lowercase letters and words as words

The following sections explain and provide examples of the punctuation rules for apostrophes in written English.

Possessive Nouns

Apostrophe S S ApostropheUse an apostrophe to form a possessive noun. Place the apostrophe before the plural s for a singular noun that ends in any letter except s. For example:

  • neighbor’s
  • parent’s
  • café’s
  • Max’s

Place the apostrophe after the last s for a singular noun that ends in s. For example:

  • Luis’
  • walrus’
  • princess’
  • actress’

Place the apostrophe after the plural s for a plural noun that ends in s. For example:

  • teachers’
  • electricians’
  • actors’
  • Martians’

Place the apostrophe before the possessive s for a plural noun that ends in any letter except s. For example:

  • brethren’s
  • alumna’s
  • children’s
  • lice’s

Do not use an apostrophe with possessive personal pronouns or possessive determiners.

Contractions and Omissions

Use an apostrophe to form a contraction. For example:

  • ’tis – it is
  • ’twas – it was
  • ain’t – am not, are not, is not
  • aren’t – are not, am not
  • can’t – cannot
  • could’ve – could have
  • couldn’t – could not
  • didn’t – did not
  • doesn’t – does not
  • don’t – do not
  • hasn’t – has not
  • he’d – he had, he would
  • he’ll – he will, he shall
  • he’s – he is
  • how’d – how did
  • how’ll – how will, how shall
  • how’s – how is
  • I’d – I had, I would
  • I’ll – I will, I shall
  • I’m – I am
  • I’ve – I have
  • isn’t – is not
  • it’s – it is (not the possessive determiner its)
  • might’ve – might have
  • mightn’t – might not
  • must’ve – must have
  • mustn’t – must not
  • shan’t – shall not
  • she’d – she had, she would
  • she’ll – she will, she shall
  • she’s – she is
  • should’ve – should have
  • shouldn’t – should not
  • that’ll – that will
  • that’s – that is
  • there’s – there is
  • they’d – they had, they would
  • they’ll – they will, they shall
  • they’re – they are
  • they’ve – they have
  • wasn’t – was not
  • we’d – we had, we would
  • we’ll – we will, we shall
  • we’re – we are
  • weren’t – were not
  • what’d – what did
  • what’s – what is
  • when’d – when did
  • when’ll – when will
  • when’s – when is
  • where’d – where did
  • where’ll – where will, where shall
  • where’s – where is
  • who’d – who had, who would
  • who’ll – who will, who shall
  • who’s – who is
  • why’d – why had, why would
  • why’ll – why will, why shall
  • why’s – why is
  • won’t – will not
  • would’ve – would have
  • wouldn’t – would not
  • you’d – you had, you would
  • you’ll – you will, you shall
  • you’re – you are
  • you’ve – you have

Use an apostrophe to mark another letter or sound omission. For example:

  • My youngest brother was born in ’92.
  • The ’80s were a strange time for music.
  • The chair is fixin’ to fall down.
  • Is the wea’er cold today? (weather)

Pluralized Lowercase Letters and Words Used as Words

Use an apostrophe to pluralize a lowercase letter or a word used as a word. For example:

  • Mind your p’s and q’s!
  • Have you learned your abc’s?
  • You misspelled all the they’re‘s in your email.
  • Your speech contained a lot of like‘s and you know‘s.

Do not use an apostrophe to pluralize capital letters, numbers, symbols, and acronyms.

Punctuation is a convention of written language that helps readers and writers more clearly understand writing. Apostrophes perform three basic functions in written American English: in possessive nouns, in contractions and omissions, and with pluralized lowercase letters and words used as words.

References

Faigley, Lester. 2003. The Brief Penguin Handbook. New York: Pearson Longman.
Gibaldi, Joseph. 2003. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.

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