How to Use the Apostrophe

English: A vandal corrects the grammar mistake...

English: A vandal corrects the grammar mistake in this sign at Leeds City station by crossing out the extraneous apostrophe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The apostrophe – when to use it. Don’t forget, clarity is more important than correctness!
We use the apostrophe for contractions, showing possession (not possessive pronouns) and clarity.

1. Contractions:
It’s cold = it is cold (Don’t confuse with, “Give the dog its dinner.”)
Let’s dance = let us dance!
I’ll try = I will or I shall try.
Don’t worry = do not worry.
I won’t worry = I will not worry.
I wouldn’t do that if I were you = I would not if I were you.
I’m cold = I am cold.
If you’re hungry, let’s eat = If you are hungry, let us eat.
(Don’t confuse with, “This is your book.”)
We’re all bored = We are all bored.
He’ll be late = He will be late.
She’ll be arriving by train = She will be arriving by train.
It’ll probably snow tomorrow = It will probably snow tomorrow.
They’re in the lobby = They are in the lobby.
(Don’t confuse with, “I think that it’s their car.”)
It’s a long way to Tipperary = It is a long way to Tipperary.
(Don’t  – do not – confuse with, “Give the dog its bone.”)

2. To show possession:

This is the dog’s dinner (just one dog)
This is the dogs’ dinner (more than one dog)
The cat’s whiskers
The cats’ whiskers
The boy’s room
The boys’ room etc ….

Tomorrow’s meeting will start at 10 o’clock (of the clock).
The company’s profits fell after the accident (one company)
The companies’ profits fell ……. (more than one company)
The boss’s office (just one boss)
The bosses’ office (more than one boss)
EU’s annual budget

As a list – George, Henry and Harry’s car (joint ownership)
George’s, Henry’s and Harry’s cars (individual ownership)

The EU is examining the state’s budgets (one state)
The EU is examining the states’ budgets (more than one state)

Possessive pronouns – no apostrophe.
This is my car. The car is mine.
This is your book. This book is yours.
This is his book. This book is his.
This is her barking dog. The barking dog is hers.
This is your money. The money is yours.
This is our house. The house is ours.
This is their problem. The problem is theirs.

Exception: The impersonal ‘one’ becomes one’s.
E.g. It is most inconvenient to have one’s wallet stolen. 

The his/her problem:
He/she becomes they.
His/her becomes their.
(Don’t confuse with, “They’re both French.”)

Whose and who’s.
Whose book is this?
This is George, who’s a lawyer (who is).
Who’s next?

3. For clarity:

The 3 A’s of Small Talk (‘The 3 As of Small Talk’ is confusing.)
The century can be assumed – in the ’70s it was all fun.
I was born in ’53.

Are there two s’s in buses?
How many e’s are in elephant?

Mind your p’s and q’s (short for ‘remember your please’s and thank you’s – be polite)

This room is for MPs only.
Back in the 1970s it was very important to dress hippy.
(No apostrophe’s needed, unless the result is confusing.)

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Apostrophe Revisited « Malcolm's English Pages
    Dec 29, 2012 @ 12:03:32

  2. Nicky
    May 08, 2017 @ 02:07:40

    How would I write tomorrows in a subject field in an email to my teacher?
    Tomorrow’s class or Tomorrows class?

  3. Malcolm Pemberton
    May 12, 2017 @ 16:23:17

    Tomorrow’s class. It’s the old genetive again, can be tricky. It means the same as ‘the class of tomorrow’, but that sounds weird.
    The same as the dog’s bone (‘the bone of the dog’ sounds nutty)
    The dogs’ bone – more than one dog, could cause a fight here’.
    Then there are tricky ones like ‘goat’s milk’ or ‘goat’s milk’. With these product descriptions we usually settle on the singular animal, is it is irrelevant how many goats are involved. So – goat’s milk.
    I think I should write a whole page on genetives 🙂

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