October 20, 2020
correct use of the apostrophe

Apostrophe Rules and Guidelines Worth Following

Reading Time: 5 minutes

You will need the following apostrophe rules and guidelines to help you write and speak good English. But let’s begin with what an apostrophe is in English grammar.

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The apostrophe (‘) is a punctuation mark that is used to indicate either possession (Farouk’s ball, Vida’s shop, building’s windows) or the omission of letters and numbers ( wasn’t, it’ll, 4th June ’79).

The apostrophe falls under the same category as the comma, semi colon and the full stop (or period – American English).

Note that the apostrophe we are referring to here is different from the apostrophe as a literary device.

My personal attitude to the rules of grammar feels like this.

I love to teach English as a non-native English speaker (This term is now considered to be discriminatory in a way.)

I’m also among those “grammar rebels” who scoff at the prescriptive attitude of some people (especially “expert” non-native speakers of English) who try to force archaic grammar rules down our throats.

That being said, here is the reason we all need apostrophe rules and guidelines.

Using the apostrophe in an acceptable way is a tricky exercise for many people; native speakers of English not excluded.

So, you will want to be sure that what you’re writing (or saying) is clear enough to convey the intended meaning to your audience.

Let’s now have our apostrophe rules and guidelines.

The 2 Primary Functions of the Apostrophe

In English writing, the apostrophe performs these two functions

The apostrophe is there to indicate possession

We also use the apostrophe for the contraction of words into a single one. Similarly, people use the apostrophe to shorten numbers, particularly, when they’re referring to a year (’88 for 1988).

Just take a quick look at the various ways the apostrophe can feature in the English sentence.

I cannot find Babatunde’s shoes.

Fatima’s problem was not about money.

The bird’s feathers are a delight to watch.

My friend’s name is Anthony.

My two friends’ names are Didi and Mark.

Ex-president Rawlings’s house is not far from here.

Ex-president Rawlings’ house is not far from here.

The three birds’ eggs look very much alike.

The Rawlingses’s car passed by a few moment ago.

The Rawlingses’ car passed by a few moments ago.

The women’s hall is the largest in the university.

We’ve come to ask you to leave.

They’re still inside the room.

You’re my best friend.

She’s just a funny little girl.

I won’t let you take him away from me.

It couldn’t go far enough.

He’ll know what to say.

It wasn’t difficult to locate.

Now, let’s look at the apostrophe rules and guidelines that have guided the writer of the above acceptable sentences.

It’s the same apostrophe rules you must follow each time you write or speak a sentence containing this punctuation mark.

Are you ready? Lets get going.


  • Add ‘s to a proper noun that doesn’t end with the letter s or sound /s/ to show possession


I cannot find Babatunde’s shoes

Fatima’s problem is not about money.

  • Add ‘s to a common noun that doesn’t end with the letter s or sound /s/ to show possession


The bird’s feathers are a delight to watch

My friend’s name is Anthony

  • Choose either ‘ or ‘s to add to a singular proper noun that ends with s.


Ex-president Rawlings’ house is not far from here.


Ex-president Rawlings’s house is not far from here.

PLEASE NOTE. According to other English grammar and style guide websites like grammarly.com, there is actually no right or wrong choice here. You can choose to follow either of the above examples. Just make sure to stay consistent.

But I think this is what sounds right for WordPress, the content management system through which I’m bringing you this tutorial on apostrophe rules.

WordPress’s algorithm keeps changing without a warning.

Top 10 Apostrophe Mistakes to Avoid

How to Answer English Summary Questions

20 Sample Summary Questions and Answers – pdf

  • Add only to a plural proper noun whose singular form ends with s


Have you seen the Rawlingses’ dog this morning?

There goes the Joneses’ Cadillac.

  • Add ‘s to a singular common noun that ends with s


The princess’s speech touched on the most sensitive issues.

  • Add only to plural common nouns that have the plural marker s


The three birds’ eggs look very much alike.

  • Add only to plural common nouns whose singular forms end with s


The two princesses’ goal is to unite the people of the world.

Those princes’ lifestyle baffles a lot of people.

  • Add ‘s to irregular plural nouns (common nouns whose plural forms don’t end with s)


The women’s hall is the largest in the university.

His feet’s bones are not as strong as they used to be.

  • Add ‘s to show the plural forms of lower case letters (small letters).


Cancel all your i’s, a’s and u’s.

Can you imagine what would happen if you wrote the above without the ?

  • Add the appropriate apostrophe to the final noun only where two or more persons or things are said to own something together (JOINT POSSESSION).


Dora and Martha’s mother is called Mary.

The cat and the dog’s food is in the cupboard.

John and Jill’s marriage is facing problems.

  • Add the appropriate apostrophe to each of the nouns where you’re referring to separate things belonging to different people or things. (SEPARATE POSSESSION)


Trump’s and Biden’s supporters have opposing attitudes to the wearing of masks.

Arsenal’s and Chelsea’s managers have both resigned.

Abena’s and Akua’s websites are doing well on Google.


We place in the place of the letters (or letter) that have been taken out when we combine two words.

We + have = We’ve

As you can see, is now occupying the place of “ha” in “have”.

Do + not = Don’t

The letter “o” in “not” is the one whose place has been taken up by

Points to note about contraction

Please note the following points about the use of the apostrophe for contraction.

  • Contraction is a common feature in the combination of pronouns and auxiliary verbs.

she’ll, they’ve, it’s, I’m, who’s

  • Contraction also happens in the combination of auxiliary verbs and the word, “not”. (NEGATING CONTRACTIONS)

isn’t = is not

doesn’t = does not

weren’t = were not

aren’t = are not

hasn’t = has not

hadn’t = had not

oughtn’t = ought not

daren’t = dare not

needn’t = need not

  • We also see contraction between modal auxiliary verbs and “have”

should’ve, must’ve, could’ve, might’ve

  • “Will not” has a contracted form which is a rare exception to the norm.

won’t = will not

  • Other common contractions

There’s = There is

Let’s = Let us

  • You will occasionally come across the following old-fashioned contractions especially if you love to read a lot of things.

ain’t = am not, is not, has not, have not

o’er = over

e’er = ever

ma’am = madam

I’d’ve, he’d’ve, she’d’ve = I would have, he would have, she would have

somethin’ = something

’tis = it is

’twas = it was

y’all = you all

Final word

Now you have all your apostrophe rules carefully put together in one place. I trust that you will not feel anxious about how to use the apostrophe correctly from this moment onward.


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Image by BUMIPUTRA from Pixabay

Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

View all posts by Ralph Nyadzi →

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