The Guide - correct usage of apostrophes home

This document is a guide on how to use the apostrophe. There is always room for debate when rules have evolved and are so regularly misused. Hopefully, this guide will cover 99% of the situations you might encounter in real life.

The rules:

  1. An apostrophe is NEVER used to make a word plural.
  2. To make a word into its possessive form, add 'S to the end.
    e.g. Dog's (belonging to dog)
  3. However, if the word is in its plural and finishes with an S already, you only need to add an apostrophe to its end.
    e.g. Dogs' (belonging to some dogs)
  4. In a situation where a word ends in S in its singular and you wish to make that singular into its possessive form, there are two schools of thought. I have seen both in print and justified by reputable sources:
  5. Some words are THEMSELVES possessives and need no apostrophe.
    e.g. his, hers, its, their, whose
  6. Where you are using a word that is a contraction of two words, put an apostrophe where the missing letters are.
    e.g. we're (we are - A is missing)
    e.g.2. haven't (have not - O is missing)
  7. You DO need the apostrophe to make a plural if you are writing a symbol:
    e.g. 1's 2's

Thinking about apostrophes

The apostrophe seems difficult to use because we speak in a manner that is different from how we write. If in doubt, rephrase or expand the contraction you are attempting to write. Written English does not necessarily read better if it is written as you would speak it. Adopting a more formal style can be clearer.

Be careful when using the apostrophe, some errors are easily made because they yield something that, while correct in some circumstances, are not correct in the given location. Look at the word you are trying to write. Is there a spelling of that word with the desired meaning (as with all of the possessive pronouns)? Consider what you get when you put the apostrophe in a particular location. Nine times out of ten, where to put the apostrophe becomes obvious when you consider what that apostrophe means in other possible locations.

e.g. Who does this belong to - I need to say hooze but how do I write it?
So, I write who and consider what my apostrophe options are; adding 'S springs to mind.
Looking at who's, I consider what it means - it actually means who is (words with apostrophes rarely offer two meanings, so if it can read wrong it is probably wrong).
Then I remember whose, which can only mean belonging to who.

e.g. Belonging to some kids - what are my options?
Add 'S, insert apostrophe before the S or add an apostrophe to the end
What does kids's mean? Well, not very much.
What does kid's mean? It means belonging to a kid.
So the answer is kids'.

Particular pitfalls

14 December 2000
Ashley Frieze