Apostrophe - Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples

Apostrophe – Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples

Welcome here! We want to take a look at Apostrophe – Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples. This punctuation mark is an important one whose uses we need to know to put our writings in proper perspectives. What is an apostrophe? Let us see some descriptions…

 Apostrophe – Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples

Let us begin by looking at the definition or description (if you will) of an apostrophe and then proceed to look at its various uses with copious examples and then where not to use the apostrophe. Shall we?

Apostrophe: A Definition

This is a mark that we use to indicate possession and to show the contraction of some words.

 When to Use an Apostrophe

We use the apostrophe, in contracted form, to mark the plural form of letters of the alphabet, figures, words discussed as words and expressions. We also use it to indicate the possessive case in nouns. In other words, an apostrophe followed by the letter s at the end of a noun signifies possessive case. Let us consider some instances of the uses of apostrophe…

In Contractions

In writing, we use an apostrophe to indicate that we have omitted one or more letters; that is, within contracted words, apostrophes replace the eliminated letters. However, in formal writing, we discourage the use of such contractions. Let us see some examples:

  • She can’t have it.
  • We haven’t seen it.
  • I’m right here.
  • I’ll be with you in a jiffy.
  • I’d like two wraps of fufu.
  • It’s ten o’clock already.
  • He won’t come now.
  • She wasn’t ready.
  • Don’t you think it’s silly!
  • We’re at the middle of something.
  • Daren’t any you argue the matter with me!
  • I love to visit Jo’burg someday. (Johannesburg)

See the Modal Auxiliary Verbs and Non-Modal Auxiliary Verbs for their contracted forms.

Apostrophe with Possessive Case Forms

We use an apostrophe with the singular and plural forms of nouns and indefinite pronouns to show possession or ownership; that is, the genitive case. Check these examples:

  • Jane’s dress is beautiful
  • His house is a stone’s throw away.
  • The game is anybody’s game.
  • Someone’s car is blocking the road.
  • The creche has many children’s toys.
  • There is a couples’ forum in my church.
  • The boys’ and girls’ hostels are congested.
  • You can find her at the teachers’ corner.
  • I followed to Captain to the Officers’ Mess.
  • Nicholas’ Hospital is one of the best.
  • Somebody’s car must be available for this emergency.
  • St. James’ Cathedral is a big one.
  • Jesus’ priesthood is of an eternal order.
  • The Israelites celebrated Moses’ parting of the Red Sea.
  • Universities around the world study Sophocles’ plays

Rules of S

When a word ends in ‘s’, there is no need to add another ‘s’ as you can see from the given examples. In addition, we do not use an apostrophe with the plural forms of possessive pronouns like his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs. However, some modern guides on punctuation like Modern English Usage by Fowler state that with modern names ending in ‘s’, (including biblical names and any foreign name with an unpronounced final ‘s’), the ‘s’ is required after the apostrophe; as in

  • We love Keats’s poems.
  • Philippa Jones’s book is interesting.

But when it comes to names from the ancient world, the ‘s’ is not required after the Apostrophe as in Achilles’ heel.  But for Jesus, there is always an exception – there is no need to add ‘s’ as in Jesus’ disciples, Jesus’ name.

When referring to plurals (words indicating more than one item) you do not need an apostrophe. Consider these examples:

  • *Puppies’ for sale
  • *Apple’s for sale.
  • *Car’s for sale.

These examples above are wrong as there is no need to add apostrophe to plural items. The correct forms are:

  • Puppies for sale
  • Apples for sale.
  • Cars for sale.

Apostrophe as Indication of Time or Quantity.

We us apostrophes to indicate time or quantity as we have in these examples:

  • I will arrive in one week’s time.
  • She will need six yards’ worth of material to sow the dress.
  • Voter cards collection ends in two weeks’ time.
  • Card readers will be shipped out in three months’ time.
  • In two days’ time, everything will be over.

Apostrophes for Plural of Letters and Figures

We use an apostrophe before an ‘s’ to form the plurals of figures and letters of the alphabet. Consider these illustrations:

  • There are two c’s and two m’s in the word, ‘accommodation’.
  • The word ‘embarrassment’ has two r’s and two s’s.
  • In the Scrabble game, q’s are so scarce.
  • Many English words do not have x’s.
  • The a’s are part of the most used letters of the English alphabet.
  • He usually spells Philip with two l’s instead of one.

Note: When it comes to the plural forms of letters in uppercase, add an ‘s’ but not an apostrophe. For example:

  • The children have started learning their ABCs
  • All DVDs play on the machine.
  • The countries’ GDPs are low.
  • We saved the work on different CDs.
  • ATMs are commonplace nowadays.

 Omission of the First Two Digits of a Year

We use the apostrophe to indicate the omission of the first two digits of a year or years. For example:

  • Quintessential class of ’08 remains the best graduating class.
  • America was in depression in the ‘30s.
  • The African Continent witnessed the gale of independence in the ‘60s.
  • The movement gained popularity in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
  • The Faith movement began in Nigeria in the ‘80s.
  • In the early ‘70s, the society was saner than this.
  • The hairstyle was popular in the ‘40s.

For Singular Compound Nouns

Apostrophes are used to sow possession for singular compound nouns as we have in these examples:

  • We went to his sister-in-law’s house
  • No soldier dare ignores the commander-in-chief’s orders.
  • The Editor-in-chief’s news report was not properly covered.
  • The sergeant-at-arms’ daughter came visiting.

Using Apostrophe in Plural Nouns

Some plural nouns end in ‘s’ while some do not. For the plural nouns that do not end in ‘s’, the apostrophe comes before the ‘s’; while for the ones that end in ‘s’, the apostrophe comes after the ‘s’. Let us illustrate this:

  • He specialises in men’s
  • Her speciality is women’s
  • The children’s nanny is here.
  • The workers’ union is planning an industrial action over minimum wage.
  • Girls’ hostel is a lot cleaner than boys’ hostel in the school.
  • Girls’ hostels are usually neater than boys’
  • Students’ shoes are expensive these days.
  • He slipped when he stepped on the bananas’
  • The clowns’ dresses have variegated colours.
  • The schools’ representatives were all present for the games.
  • In this part of the country, families’ houses are unusually spacious.
  • The air hostesses’ dinner gowns were ruined by the drink.
  • Her parents’ car needs to be repainted.
  • The wind blew away the musicians’ sheets during the outdoor concert.
  • The puppies’ pen needs cleaning.
  • It is proper to remove cherries’ pits before using them to make pie.
  • We have blocked all the mice’s holes and destroyed their nests.

Apostrophe for Two or More Persons

There are instances in which two or more persons share ownership of something. In such cases, the apostrophe comes after the name of the last person and then the addition of an ‘s’. Consider these examples:

  • Michael and Grace’s car is becoming old.
  • Shawn, Tony and Joseph’s house has been put up for sale.
  • Get me a copy of Bloor and Bloor’s book.
  • Sammy and Jane’s car was towed away.

However, if ownership is individually shared, that is if different nouns severally share the ownership of something, each noun takes an apostrophe. Let us see these examples:

  • The teacher’s and the student’s views are not in alignment.
  • Pete’s and John’s laptops are missing.
  • Sammy’s and Jane’s cars were towed away.
  • Elliot’s and Eugene’s phones are outside network coverage.
  • Gretchen’s and Gina’s luggage came three days after their arrival.

Confusions to Avoid in the Use of Apostrophe

It is said that the apostrophe is one of the punctuation marks commonly misused, misplaced, and misunderstood!

Avoid confusion of the following:

Your and You’re

The word Your is a possessive pronoun but You’re is a contracted form of You are.

  • Your car is here.
  • You’re an enigma.

Its and It’s

This word Its is a possessive pronoun while It’s is a contracted for of It is.

  • It’s here already.
  • Its wheels are broken.

Whose and Who’s

When you look at the word Whose, it equally symbolises possession while Who’s is the contracted form of Who is.

  • Whose car is this?
  • I know who’s coming to town.

Read more on the use of Whose and Who’s.

Do not use an apostrophe with the plural forms of possessive pronouns such as:

  • His
  • Mine
  • Hers
  • Its
  • Ours
  • Yours
  • Theirs

And possessive determiners such as:

  • My
  • Our
  • Your
  • His
  • Their
  • Her
  • Its

To know whether to use an apostrophe or not, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Does the word own something?
  • Is this word a contraction of two words?

If the answers to these two questions are in the affirmative, you might consider using an apostrophe within the various contexts of use we have talked about above.  You must also note that apostrophes are not markers of the plural form of the noun.

Never use an apostrophe before the ‘s’ in the plural of dates.

  • 1900s
  • 1990s
  • 1600s
  • 2000s
  • 1500s

Final Word

I am pretty sure you have learned a whole lot of useful information from this post, Apostrophe – Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples. There are other punctuation marks you need to learn about; do not deny yourself the opportunity of checking them out and sharing the useful items of information with others. Remember to connect us on our Social Media platforms. See you around.


  1. Write up is very good. Syles in writing, mechanics/punctuation and their uses all of these should have been in a booklet form.

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