25 Punctuation: Apostrophes


An apostrophe can be used in two ways: as a contraction and to show possession.


 A contraction is a word that is formed by combining two words. In a contraction, an apostrophe indicates where one or more letters have been left out when the two words are combined. Contractions are commonly used in informal writing but not in formal writing.

Common Contractions

Apostrophes can also be used to shorten words (of the clock = o’clock), to shorten numbers (1993 = ’93), or dialect (runnin’).


Apostrophes are used with a noun or indefinite pronoun to show who or what belongs to something or someone.

To determine where the apostrophe goes in a word that shows possession, you must first determine if the noun or indefinite pronoun is singular or plural.

Determining whether or not to place an apostrophe before or after an s to show possession in a sentence is a three-step process:

Apostrophes to Show Joint or Separate Ownership

 Apostrophes can be used to show joint ownership or individual ownership.

Apostrophes in Hyphenated Compound Words

To show possession when using hyphenated compound words, add an apostrophe and an s at the end of the last hyphenated word regardless of whether or not the nouns are singular or plural.

Watch these videos to review what you’ve learned about apostrophes. The first video[1] provides an overview of using apostrophes in contractions and to show ownership – and it explains how to know if the apostrophe goes before or after the “s”! The second video[2] gives you opportunities to apply your knowledge.

Tips to Remember:

 1. Possessive pronouns do not need apostrophes since they are already possessive.

2. Do not use an apostrophe with regular plural forms of nouns that do not show possession even if they end in s.

3. Do not use an apostrophe with verbs that end in s.

4. Do not use an apostrophe if you are writing the numeral of a decade or century since nothing belongs to that decade or century.

Learning Check

Determine if apostrophes are used properly in the following sentences.



Additional Resources

To learn more about apostrophes

  1. Shannon, D. (2021, March 28). Apostrophes 1 [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/0FuzpY1sN1w
  2. Shannon, D. (2021, March 28). Apostrophes 2 [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/Xbu9ZWfgwYw
  3. Writing for Success is adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) in 2011 by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support Initiative.


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