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Punctuation Rules for Apostrophes in Written English

Punctuation Rules for Apostrophes in Written English

Punctuation 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:

  • Possessive nouns
  • Contractions and omissions
  • 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

ApostropheUse 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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