Apostrophe s

The English apostrophe s and s apostrophe cause a lot of problems, even for native speakers. This lesson’s task is to help you learn about possessives and contractions that need apostrophes and plurals that don’t.

The apostrophe has two purposes in English:

1) To indicate that one or more letters was dropped in a contraction.

uncontracted = contracted
it is it’s
we are we’re
does not doesn’t
of the clock o’clock

2) To indicate possession.

singular with ‘s Tom’s book
Jeannie’s idea
the girl’s toys (toys belong to one girl)
plural with s’ the books’ covers (several books)
my brothers’ jobs (my two brothers)
the girls’ toys (toys belong to several girls)

The apostrophe should never be used when talking about something that is plural, with no possession.

correct   incorrect
The girls walked by The girl’s walked by
My brothers are tall My brother’s are tall
Welcome travelers Welcome traveler’s
I bought three CDs. I bought three CD’s.

Note that it doesn’t matter what letter is at the end of any given word; you always need to add ‘s to show possession.

Mr. Jones   Mr. Jones’s car
Bill Blass Bill Blass’s designs
Las Vegas Las Vegas’s hotels
fox the fox’s habitat
Señor Ortiz Señor Ortiz’s class

The Bottom Line

Just remember that the apostrophe has a purpose: to indicate a contraction or possession. It does not indicate a plural – the letter s does a fine job of that all by itself.

Related difficulties

4 Responses

  1. Ron Egan 1 December 2014 / 13:24

    Back in the fourties we were taught that an apostophe was to be placed after the s if it was possessive and before the s if it was non-possessive, such as “Harry’s on his way,” thus removing the letter i and making it easier to state. For instance saying “John’s Shoe Store” would be incorrect as it would mean “John is Shoe Store.” Most people ignore this today. Looking forward to a reply.

    • lkl 1 December 2014 / 16:15

      I’ve never heard that, and it contradicts what I did learn: ‘s is for singular nouns (dog’s = belonging to one dog, John’s = belonging to one man named John) and s’ is for plural (dogs’ = belonging to at least two dogs, Johns’ = belonging to two or more men named John).

      ‘s can also indicate a contraction of is or has.

      So for me and every grammar book I’ve never looked at, “John’s at the store” and “This is John’s store” are both correct.

  2. john 1 February 2015 / 12:31

    Does the apostrophe go before or after the ‘s’ when the noun is a plural not normally needing an ‘s’ when there is no possession
    For example: men, women, children. These are plurals without an ‘s’.
    Is it the men’s room, the women’s clothes, the children’s game. This breaks the rule of the apostrophe following the ‘s’ when there is a plural.
    With thanks, John

    • lkl 1 February 2015 / 14:16

      >>Is it the men’s room, the women’s clothes, the children’s game