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The apostrophe has two main functions: forming contractions and forming possessives. In addition, some symbols and lower case letters form their plurals with the addition of 's, for example, two t's, two 2's.


The apostrophe signals omission of one or more letters:

it's = it is

couldn't = could not

I'll = I will


Use the possesive form for the owner or possessor, not for the thing possessed. Note that a possessive noun functions as an adjective.

    the desk of George = George's desk

    a vacation of two weeks = two weeks' vacation

    payment for one day = one day's payment

Singular Possessives

Add apostrophe plus s ('s) to form the possessive of all singular words except when pronunciation would be difficult. In those cases, place an apostrophe at the end of the word (s').

    the car of Ms. Jones = Ms. Jones's car

    the dial on a phone = a phone's dial

    a vacation of one week = a week's vacation

    Exceptions: Jesus' teachings, Charles' xylophones

Plural Possessives

Since most nouns form their plurals with the addition of s, most plural possessives add the apostrophe alone. Add apostrophe plus s ('s) to form the possessive of a plural word only when the plural word does not end in s.

    cars of the Joneses = the Joneses' cars; desks of the secretaries = secretaries' desks;

    books by the women = women's books

    1. To ensure correct formation of possessives, use a two-stage technique. For clarity when handwriting with apostrophes, leave a space rather than join letters separated by apostrophes.

         a. First, establish the singular or plural nature of the base word, for example, cow.

         b. Second, form the possessive of the base word, for example, cow's.

    2. Do not use apostrophes to form the possessive of possessive pronouns; they are already possessive in form: their, theirs, ours, its, her, hers

    3. Be careful to distinguish between simple plurals, verbs ending in s, and possessive forms:

      Neither the horses nor the cow eats oats; in fact, the cow's favorite food is carrot cake, and the horses' favorite food is candy.

Last revision: August 4, 2003