There are two main ways to use apostrophes: to indicate possession or in contractions. You might think that this is a minor issue of punctuation, but correct use of apostrophes helps ensure your written work is clear.
Apostrophes are how we indicate in writing that something belongs to someone or something else. For example, if we were writing about a car owned by Nigel we would add an apostrophe and an “s” like this:
After breaking down on the freeway, Nigel’s car needed extensive repairs.
The same rule applies when describing a quality possessed by or element of something:
The car’s top speed was 210 km/h.
The exception to this rule is possessive determiners (such as “its,” “his” and “her”), which do not require an apostrophe. So, for example, the pronoun “it” becomes “its” when indicating possession:
Nigel loved his car: its top speed was 210 km/h.
It’s worth noting that words which already end with an “s” can be modified with either just an apostrophe or an “-’s”:
Angus’ grammar was always perfect.
Angus’s grammar was always perfect.
Both of the above are acceptable; just remember to aim for consistency throughout your work.
A contraction is an abbreviated version of two words. We use an apostrophe in contractions to indicate missing letters:
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Do not → Don’t
I have → I’ve
You are → You’re
Another common contraction is to add an “-’s” to a word when it’s followed by “is” or “has”:
David is running late → David’s running late
His car has broken down → His car’s broken down
It’s important to remember here that “it is” and “it has” become “it’s”. An apostrophe should therefore only be added in “it’s” when used as a contraction rather than a possessive. It’s also worth noting that contractions are generally not considered appropriate in formal writing.
Not every word ending in an “s” requires an apostrophe. When pluralizing a word, for instance, you don’t need to include an apostrophe before the “s.”
As such the plural of “dinosaur” is “dinosaurs” (not “dinosaur’s”). Likewise, the plural of “banana” is “bananas” (not “banana’s”).
Hopefully this has clarified a few things about how and when to use apostrophes. But since it can be easy to overlook a misplaced apostrophe, it’s always a good idea to have a professional double-check your work.