How to use the apostrophe in English?

The apostrophe is the most misused punctuation mark in English. Even native English speakers sometimes make the mistake of using the apostrophe incorrectly. Let’s understand when to use the apostrophe in English and what the common mistakes most people make with apostrophes are.

A) We use an apostrophe in contractions.

We can use the apostrophe to contract the following:

  1. A subject and a verb
  2. A helping verb and a modal auxiliary verb
  3. a helping verb and NOT

Use the apostrophe to contract the subject and the helping verb

  • They’re listening to me.
  • Rohan’s gone crazy.
  • You’ve worked very hard.
  • I’ll call you in some time.

The apostrophe here shows that a letter(s) is missing in the contraction.

Use the apostrophe to contract the helping verb and a modal auxiliary verb

  • We would’ve saved him.
  • He might’ve been sleeping.
  • You should’ve called me before going there.

Use the apostrophe to contract the helping verb and negation (not)

  • We aren’t ready to move.
  • He won’t win the match.
  • Jon hasn’t called me yet.
Complete expressionsContractions
Is + not
are + not
am + not
Has + not
Have + not
Had + not
Will + not (modal + not)
Isn’t
aren’t
ain’t
hasn’t
haven’t
hadn’t
won’t, mustn’t, can’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t
He + is
She + is
It + is
I + am
You are
We are
They are
He’s
She’s
It’s
I’m
You’re
We’re
They’re
It’s
He’s
She’s
I’d
You’d
He’d
She’d
It is or It would
He is or He would
She is or She would
I would or I had
You would or You had
He had or He had
She had or She had
Contractions

Examples:

  • You’re doing it well.
  • They’ve gone to a hill station.
  • I might’ve made a mistake.
  • We could’ve saved his life.
  • Ron isn’t coming to the class today.

Here, the apostrophe indicates where the letter(s) is missing in the contraction.

B) To show possession of a noun.

The apostrophe is used to show the possession of a noun. To show the possession of a singular noun, we use ‘the apostrophe’ + ‘s’ (‘s) after the noun.

Examples:

  • Sam’s house is huge.

Alternative: The house that belongs to Sam is huge.

  • I don’t like your brother’s attitude.

Alternative: I don’t like the attitude of your brother.

More examples:

  • His father’s shop is closed today.
  • Rohan’s dog is with me.
  • He is studying in Goa’s best school.

Note that if the singular noun is ending with the letter ‘S’, we may or may not use the letter ‘S’ after the apostrophe (‘s).

  • Charles’ brother is a doctor.
  • It’s almost impossible to break Jon Jones’ record.
  • None of us is going to James’s party.

Some teachers might tell you not to use ‘s’ after a noun ending with the letter ‘s’ to show its possession, but it’s grammatically correct to do that. The common practice is not to use ‘s’ after it, but we can. Whatever you choose, just be consistent with that in your writing.

Most plural nouns end with the letter ‘s’. To show their possession, just use the apostrophe after them.

  • This is a boys’ school. You can’t study here.
  • The ladies’ room was beautiful.
  • She has met my friends’ parents.

Some plural nouns don’t end with the letter ‘s’, and we use ‘the apostrophe + s’ after them (‘s).

Singular nounsPlural nouns
ManMen
WomanWomen
PersonPeople
ChildChildren
Plural nouns that don’t end with ‘s’

Examples:

  • Everyone calls him people’s champ.
  • The men’s toilet is on the left.

Compound nouns and the apostrophe

Certain compound nouns don’t form their possessive case by adding ‘s’ at the end of the word. Study the following examples:

  • His mother-in-law’s school is famous for quality education.
  • My brother-in-law’s friends are crazy.
  • My brothers-in-law’s wives are very supportive. (The compound noun is plural. There is more than one brother-in-law and their possession is their individual wives.)

But using the apostrophe at the end of the first noun will be a mistake.

  • His mother’s-in-law school is famous for quality education. ❌
  • My brother’s-in-law friends are crazy. ❌

Apostrophes with joined possession (compound nouns)

If the compound noun involves more the one person, and they are sharing the ownership with the same object, the apostrophe comes at the end of the last noun (person).

Examples:

  • Jon and Max’s business is doing well. (The business is owned by both Jon and Max)
  • Monu and Radhika’s wedding is on December 10. (They both are getting married on the date)

But if the object that each person in the compound noun owns is different, use a plural noun after the compound noun.

  • Ashish and Rohan’s schools are very different in terms of how they teach students. (They both have different school)
  • Monu and Radhika’s weddings are getting canceled. (They both have different weddings)

Congratulations! You have now mastered the uses of the apostrophe in English. Feel free to correct any typing mistakes you come across.

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