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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.


    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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