the apostrophe where and how to use it


The apostrophe: where you can stick it with some quirky examples




It Is used in only two ways:


1. to denote possession - the possessive ‘s’                      


It’s odd and a source of error that the letter ‘s’ is used for plurals and also to denote possession.




2. to indicate a missing letter or letters




It is NOT used to indicate a plural, nor is it used for decoration. The plural of TV is not TV's.




Simple but there are a number of sound-alike words, which cause complications.






1. Possessive


The bone belonging to the dog:           the dog’s bone


The coat that belongs to Jack:             that’s Jack’s coat            (That is the coat that belongs to Jack)


The TV's remote                                   the remote working the TV  (pedantically it could also mean "the TV is some distance away.")




In a plural word ending in ‘s’ the apostrophe  goes after the ‘s’.




 The dog’s bone               a single  dog


The dogs’ bones             more than one dog.


In a word that happens to end in s an extra s can be added and is usually pronounced. Though for reasons of practicality there may be exceptions.


octopus’s or octopus’ garden                              single octopus


octopuses’  garden                                            multiple octopuses    


Davy Jones' locker   or Davy Jones's locker






2. missing letters


I am                 I’m                               We are         we’re              


You are           You’re


She is              She’s


He is                He’s                            They are     they’re


It is                  It’s


could not       couldn’t                        is not        isn’t


was not          wasn’t


Shall not       Shan't                          Lewis Carroll pointed out that logically it should be sha''n't.


4 of the clock       4 o' clock


that is              that's




Complications and sound- alikes.




There are a group of words, which I will call possessive adjectives (I think this is the correct term), which are possessive in their own right and do not need an apostrophe, some need a qualifying noun, some don’t. Here they are in bold




My dog      He’s mine


Your dog    he’s yours


Her bitch    She’s hers


His dog       He's his     


Its bone       it’s its                   (dog referred to as ‘it’ for illustrative purposes)


Our dog      it’s ours


Their dogs    They’re theirs


It’s interesting to speculate about the history of these words. Did they originally have an apostrophe? Was mine originally me’s? Was his originally he’s? We need a linguistic historian.




Here we can see some considerable potential for confusion.


Note the differences between  you’re and your and their and they’re


And the classic error: its and it’s.




It can be argued that the only use for the apostrophe is for a missing letter. Although much of our vocabulary is Latinate, our grammar is Teutonic. The German language utilises 'es' or  's' for possession as in Gottes Wille (God's will)  and Middle English and hence Chaucer frequently used 'es'. for possesion, as in Goddes love. However, we have dropped the 'e', which appears to have been replaced with an apostrophe.




Fun with apostrophes




pig's fly     -        a porcine parasite


Can you think of a sentence containing: its, it's, their, and they're?




 Links for more info dreaded apostrophe