Have you ever written anything in English?
If you have, you might have found yourself scratching your head thinking about how to use apostrophes in English.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Native speakers of English can sometimes get confused too about how apostrophes are used.
An apostrophe is just a little punctuation mark, but it can really change the meaning of the message, email, letter, or whatever else you’re writing.
In this mini-guide, you’ll learn the six most common uses of apostrophes in English, so you can spend less time scratching your head, and more time writing.
You use apostrophes in English when you want to show that something belongs to someone or something.
For example, “my friend’s car” means that the car belongs to my friend.
Here are other examples:
- My cousin’s dog is brown.
- Mary's book is on the table.
- The teacher's lesson was informative.
- The company's profits increased this year.
- The doctor's office is closed on weekends.
- The student's essay received a good grade.
- I don’t drink cow’s milk.
- The bride's dress was beautiful.
- My husband’s handwriting is so nice.
- The chef's special dish was amazing.
If a singular word ends in -s, you still need to add on the s after the apostrophe. For example:
- Carlos's car is parked outside.
- The class's project is due next week.
- The boss's office is on the top floor.
- The princess’s necklace was stolen.
I’ve talked about singular nouns. But what about if the owner is a plural noun ending in -s – like “friends”? In that case, you should only add the apostrophe after the “s” – e.g. “my friends’ house”.
Here are some other examples:
- The birds' nests were in the trees.
- The employees' salaries increased this year.
- The students' backpacks were lined up against the wall.
- My parents’ clothes are in the closet.
- His cousins’ house was knocked down two years ago.
- The dancers’ shoes were organized on the shelves.
- The musicians' instruments were tuned before the performance.
- The coaches' strategy was successful in the game.
- Her neighbours’ car is old.
- The flowers' petals were delicate and colourful.
Some plural nouns, like children, men, and women, are irregular. In that case, you add the apostrophe + “s”. Like this:
- The children's toys were on the floor.
- The men’s jackets are very expensive in that shop.
- A protest to fight for women’s rights
Have you ever wondered why there is an apostrophe in McDonald’s?
Well, the fast food restaurant chain is named after its founder, Ray Kroc, who purchased the original McDonald's restaurant from the McDonald brothers.
The apostrophe, again, indicates possession (i.e. McDonald's restaurant).
Apostrophes in English are used in contractions to show that some letters have been left out of a word. For example, “don't” is short for “do not” and the apostrophe takes the place of the letter “o” in “not”.
Contractions are common in informal writing. If you want to learn more about them and how they’re used, you can check out our complete guide to contractions in English.
Here are some examples of the use of apostrophes in contractions:
- I can't believe it!
- She didn't know the answer.
- He's going to the store.
- We won't be able to make it.
- They aren't coming to the party.
- I haven't seen her in weeks.
- She wouldn't listen to me.
- He isn't feeling well today.
- You'll regret it if you don't try.
- It's raining outside.
Easy, right? Be careful not to confuse the following:
- Its / It’s
- Your / You’re
- Their – There / They’re
- Who’s / Whose
These are tricky words that even native speakers find hard to use and spell correctly. Let’s take a closer look at them and how they’re used.
Its / It’s
The difference between “its” and “it's” is that “its” is the possessive form of “it”, while “it's” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has”. Here are three examples of each:
Examples of “its”:
- The cat licked its paws.
- The house is great but its colour is not.
- The book lost its cover.
- I want to learn English and its grammar.
In each of these examples, “its” is a possessive pronoun, so you don’t need to use an apostrophe.
Examples of “it's”:
- It's a beautiful day outside.
- It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life!
- It’s time to go.
- It's been a long time since we last saw each other.
- It's important to eat a healthy breakfast.
In each of these examples, “it's” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has”, so you need to use an apostrophe. This takes the place of the missing letters.
Your / You’re
The difference between “your” and “you're” is the same as the difference between “its” and “it’s”. “Your” is a possessive pronoun that indicates ownership, while “you're” is a contraction of “you are”.
Examples of “your”:
- Is this your pencil?
- Your music is great.
- Your website looks amazing.
- Your parents must be proud of you.
- What's your favourite colour?
Examples of “you're”:
- You're my best friend.
- You’re the best in the world.
- You’re a great teacher.
- You're going to love this movie.
- I think you're right.
Their – There / They’re
The difference between “their”, “there”, and “they're” is that “their” is a possessive pronoun that indicates ownership, “there” is an adverb, and “they're” is a contraction of “they are”.
Check out these examples:
- That's their car in the driveway.
- I love the way their house is decorated.
- The students forgot their homework.
- I don’t like their music.
- Their daughter graduated last year.
- The book is over there on the shelf.
- I want to go there for my vacation.
- There is no need to rush.
- There are plenty of apples in the fridge.
- There has never been so much technology in our lives.
- They're coming to the party later.
- I heard they're getting married next month.
- They're the best team in the league.
- They’re my friends.
- They’re coming tonight.
Who’s / Whose
The words “who's” and “whose” are often confused because they sound similar, but they have different meanings and uses when it comes to apostrophes.
“Who's” is a contraction of “who is” or “who has”.
- Who's going to the party tonight?
- Do you know who's in charge of the project?
- Who's been using my computer?
- Who’s your favourite singer?
- Who’s been eating my cake?
“Whose,” on the other hand, is a possessive pronoun. It is used to show that something belongs to someone or to ask about ownership. No apostrophe here.
- Whose backpack is this?
- I don't know whose car that is.
- Whose turn is it to do the dishes?
- Whose pen is that?
- Do you know whose coat this is?
3. Plurals Of letters
Apostrophes in English are used in the plural of letters. For example:
- I need to dot the i's and cross the t's.
- There are two p's in the word “happy.”
- She wrote her name with two s's at the end.
- There are two p's in ‘apples.'
- The word ‘committee' has two m's and four t's.
But don’t use an apostrophe for uppercase letters used as words.
Here’s an example:
- He received three As on his report card.
You can use an apostrophe when writing about decades to show that you have left out two numbers.
- The fashion of the '70s is often associated with bell-bottoms.
- He was born in the mid-'80s.
- Disco music was popular in the late '70s and early '80s.
You should use apostrophes in English in the word o’clock. O’clock is short for “of the clock”.
- The meeting starts at 2 o'clock.
- She always arrives at work by 9 o'clock in the morning.
- The concert begins at 7 o'clock tonight.
- I'll meet you at the park at 4 o'clock this afternoon.
- The train departs at 11 o'clock tonight.
6. Informal Speech And Dialogue
Apostrophes in English are sometimes used in dialogue to indicate the omission of the “g” sound at the end of a word that ends in “-ing”. This is often used in informal or colloquial speech to make the dialogue sound more natural.
Here are some examples:
- She's been workin' hard all day.
- He's goin' fishin' this weekend.
- I'm thinkin' we should go to the movies tonight.
Apostrophes can also be used in dialogue to indicate the omission of a syllable or sound. We can, for example, shorten the word “them” to “em”.
- “Don't mess with 'em, they're trouble.”
- I never said anything to 'em about it.
- I don't trust 'em, they're always up to somethin'.
All About Apostrophes In English
Have you ever listened to “Whatever It Takes” by an American pop-rock band called “Imagine Dragons”?
In this song, they say, “I'm an apostrophe. I'm just a symbol to remind you that there's more to see.”
That’s a nice way to look at apostrophes!
Remember that to become a skillful writer in English and use apostrophes correctly, you will need to practise writing and reading again and again
So, happy reading and happy writing!