Sign Up For Our Free Grammar E-Newsletter

Apostrophes

When asked what the most common English usage error is, I don’t have to think hard. The “winning” mistake is the misuse of the apostrophe, especially with its/it’s.

First, let’s get rid of a myth: There is no such thing as its’. Why? Because its’ would be meaningless. If its’ existed, it would be indicating plural possession. First of all, it is always singular. Second, its without an apostrophe is the possessive form.
Example: The dog hurt its paw.

The word it’s is a contraction for it is or it has.
Examples:
It’s a shame that the dog hurt its paw.
It’s always been there.

Now, we can look at more apostrophe rules.

Rule: To show possession by one person, use an apostrophe and add an s.
Examples:
girl’s hat (one girl who owns a hat)
girl’s hats (one girl who owns more than one hat)
woman’s dress (one woman who owns a dress)
woman’s dresses (one woman with more than one dress)

Rule: To show plural possession, make the noun plural first; then add an apostrophe.
Examples:
The girls’ hats flew off in the wind. (more than one girl, each with a hat)
The women’s dresses matched their shoes. (more than one woman, each with matching shoes)

Notice that women’s was not an exception. The noun was made plural first and then the apostrophe was added. The only difference is that the plural of woman doesn’t end in an s.
Examples:
one boy’s book, two boys’ books
one man’s jacket, two men’s jackets
one lass’s hat, two lasses’ hats

Posted on Wednesday, November 1, 2006, at 9:09 pm


55 Comments

55 Responses to “Apostrophes”

  1. ilana says:

    But what if the singular and plural of a word are the same? Such as with fish or deer or sheep. Is it “All the fish’s habitats?” or “All the fishs’ habitats” or “All the fishes’ habitats?”

  2. Jane says:

    “Fish’s habitats” or “fishes’ habitats” would be correct because the plural of “fish,” as you note, is “fish” or “fishes.”
    “Sheep’s wool” is the only answer for plural possessive since the only plural for “sheep” is “sheep.” Same with “deer.”
    You will never see something like “fishs’” because there is no such word.

  3. HANNAH says:

    Thank you for this page on the misuse of the apostrophe. I have to admit even at twenty two, I still have some bad habits. I finally now understand what we were being drilled about at school!

  4. Jane says:

    Better late than never. I’m happy to read that apostrophes are making more sense now. Thanks for writing, Hannah.

  5. engee says:

    I’d like to point out one thing: the contraction for ‘it has’ is also represented by ‘it’s’. Compare:
    Look at the car. It’s (= It has) got a broken windshield.
    It’s (= It has) been snowing since yesterday.
    Well, all I can suggest is making some small changes to the on-line book in the places where applicable.

  6. Jane says:

    You’re right that “it’s” is also a contraction for “it has.” However, the first example you give of “It’s got a broken windshield” isn’t correct. “Has got” is not correct usage. So write “It has a broken windshield.” Your second example is just fine.

  7. engee says:

    I hate to disagree with you on that one point that the usage of ‘has got’ is incorrect, when used in a contraction. As far as I know, in British English you can use both ‘has’ and ‘has got’ meaning ‘to possess’, cf.
    She has a brand new car.
    She has got a brand new car.
    She’s got a brand new car.
    or with the meaning of ‘necessity/obligation’:
    It has got to be finished by Friday.
    It’s got to be finished by Friday.
    I suppose the contraction of this kind is not so common in American English.

  8. Jane says:

    In American English, the expression is “has gotten,” not “has got” when you mean “has purchased.” Example: “She has gotten a brand new car.”
    If you mean “to possess,” you would say, “She has a brand new car,” not “She has got a brand new car.”

  9. ben parker says:

    I don’t have a copy of Word handy to check, but I wonder if it “fixes” the capitalization automatically resulting in at least some of the instances you see.

  10. Jane says:

    No grammar or spell check program is completely reliable.

  11. engee says:

    Thanks a lot. Now I’ve come to know about another difference I didn’t have any idea about between British and American English. Next time I’ll check something up thoroughly before giving my personal opinion about it.

  12. Jane says:

    You’re welcome, Engee.

  13. Todd says:

    What is the actual and correct use of an apostrophe for the following statement:

    The branch managers meeting will be held on Thursday?

  14. Jane says:

    Todd, there are two answers. If you think of “branch managers” as part of the title, you would not need an apostrophe. If you think of “branch managers” as a description of the meeting, then you would write, “branch managers’ meeting.”

  15. Sharon says:

    Are upwards, downwards, towards, etc., correct, or should it be upward, downward, toward, etc.?

    Thank you.

  16. Jane says:

    The “s” on all the words you ask about is optional. American English usage tends to leave off the “s” while British usage tends to add it.

  17. Kayla says:

    What should the plural possessive be for deer? This was my answer:
    Singular Possessive Plural Possessive
    deer deer’s deers’

    I got the Plural Possessive answer wrong. What did I miss?

  18. Jane says:

    Since the plural of “deer” is still “deer,” you can’t add the “s” first for the plural possessive. So both the singular possessive and plural possessive of “deer” is “deer’s.”

  19. Carol says:

    I just finished reading a novel in which an “apostrophe S” was added to show possession in names already ending in S, i.e., Chris’s. Is this a new rule or poor proofreading?

  20. Jane says:

    Carol,
    This is an option that some of us prefer. This note is from my site:
    http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/apostro.asp Rule 2
    NOTE: Although names ending in s or an s sound are not required to have the second s added in possessive form, it is preferred.
    Mr. Jones’s golf clubs
    Texas’s weather
    Ms. Straus’s daughter
    Jose Sanchez’s artwork
    Dr. Hastings’s appointment (name is Hastings)
    Mrs. Lees’s books (name is Lees)

  21. Robert Shaw says:

    I found this example in my daughter’s (British) reading book this evening: “A monster’s got to do what a monster’s got to do!” I suppose this is correct but somehow it strikes me as odd. What do you think?

  22. Jane says:

    “A monster’s got to do…” is correct. The apostrophe is for the contraction “A monster has got to do…”

    • Tanzi says:

      However in the discussion with Engee above you stated that “has got” is not correct usage. So isn’t “A monster has got to do…” incorrect? Shouldn’t it be “A monster has to do, what a monster has to do” or “A monster’s to do what a monster’s to do”?

      • Since Jane is no longer among us, we can only guess that her intention was for her response of September 8, 2008, to supersede earlier responses of 2007. While we may or may not more commonly hear in American English “It has a broken windshield” vs. “It’s got a broken windshield,” both are correct.

  23. bluestar8279 says:

    when saying “This one is old”. Could this be correctly written as “This one’s old.”
    If that is correct is that because it is a contraction, or can that only be written like that for “it is” (it’s)

  24. Toshia says:

    I just recently sent an example to my English Professor about misused signs”
    “Sam and Roscos Restaurant” I stated that the sign should read “Sam and Rosco’s Restaurant” because I was thinking since it’s several nouns for one object the (‘s) is added to the last item in the list. Well she stated that is not correct, it should read “Sam’s and Rosco’s Restaurant”

    What is really the correct way and why? This is for my knowledge moving forward.

    • Jane says:

      There is no “incorrect” answer because the name should be decided upon by the owners of the restaurant. Technically, however, the apostrophe will usually be placed with the second name only when two people co-own something. Your writing “Sam and Rosco’s Restaurant” would be correct following this rule.

  25. waseem says:

    guys where can i find a wirksheet of this

  26. waseem says:

    worksheet*

  27. June says:

    Hello, I am in great need to know if the following sentence should have managers include an apostrophe or not.

    I am excited and looking forward to working for John, Beth and their managers.

    OR

    I am excited and looking forward to working for John, Beth and their manager’s.

    Thank ou for your help.

  28. Cari Shane says:

    My business partner and I are putting together our website. We are being a little “kitchy” and need to know how to correctly spell/use the word “she’s” in the following sentence.

    The “she’s” merged their minds and became sasse.

    Could you please let us know if we spell “she’s” with an apostrophe or “shes” without.

    We gratefully appreciate your knowledge and look forward to hearing back from you shortly.

  29. Chris says:

    Jane,
    In writing a personal card saying …

    Grandson, hat’s off to you!

    Would it be correct to have “hat’s” implying MY hat goes off to you? Do I need to include “my” to clarify that I mean possession?
    The inside sentiment of the card is in first person also.
    Would it change if it is from “us”? Our hat’s off to you.

    Or should it just say “hats off to you”? (which seems impersonal in that all hats are off to you)
    Thank you for clarifying!

    • Jane says:

      By using ‘s on the word hat, you are either intending a contraction for hat is, or you are showing possession by the hat itself, such as “The hat’s brim is dirty.” So, if the card is from one person (you), “My hat is off to you” or, informally, “My hat’s off to you” are both fine. If from “us,” “Our hats are off to you” would be correct. The phrase “hats off to you” is commonly used to congratulate or honor someone for an accomplishment. Whether it is interpreted as being impersonal or as a compliment is subjective.

  30. michael says:

    If i am writing a essay and i were to write.

    The dictionary says, blah blah blah blah blah.
    or would i write it as
    the dictionary says’ blah blah blah blah blah.

    • Jane says:

      Use a comma (not an apostrophe) before a direct quotation. Also, use quotation marks and capitalize the first word of the quote. For example:

      Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary says, “In the Middle Ages, troubadours were the shining knights of poetry (in fact, some were ranked as high as knights in the feudal class structure).”

  31. Paolo says:

    I was just looking at your website for some help with apostrophes. While reading though the rules I came across rule 4 and became confused. Rule 4 states to make the noun plural first and then immediately use the apostrophe.

    In the examples two lines don’t make sense to me:

    two boys’ hats two women’s hats
    &
    two children’s hats

    Why don’t the word women’s and children’s follow the rule?

    • Jane says:

      The important words are make the noun plural first. The singular forms are: woman and child. Plural forms are: women and children. Therefore, make the noun plural first, then use the apostrophe: women’s and children’s.

  32. Gwen says:

    Can you tell me if this sentence has the apostrophe’s in the right place?

    Mr. and Mrs. Greenberger’s sons’ bris will be on Tuesday.

    • Jane says:

      First of all, your question should not have an apostrophe at all: “Can you tell me if this sentence has the apostrophes in the right place?”

      Assuming there is only one son, it should be “Mr. and Mrs. Greenberger’s son’s bris will be on Tuesday.”

  33. Peter says:

    Hi Jane,
    How would you write the expression “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s?”, with or without apostrophes?

    Strictly speaking we are making the letters plural, suggesting that apostrophes shouldn’t be used, but leaving them out looks wrong – e.g. “the i’s” becomes “the is”, which doesn’t make sense.

    I wondered about italicising the “i” and “t” and putting the “s” in normal script, or is this a rare exception to the main rule?

  34. Lorraine says:

    Hi Jane,

    Which is correct in the following company name?

    Hats Off!

    or

    Hats’ Off!

    Thank you, Lorraine

  35. Claudia says:

    The Burtons’ house is nice.
    Mr and Mrs Burton’s house is nice.
    Is that correct? ( or the Smiths’ house / Mr and Mrs Smith’s house)
    Thanks,
    Claudia

  36. Jonas B. says:

    Could I get your opinion?

    I have a list of manufacturers. Would this be the

    Manufacturers’ List
    Or
    Manufacturers List

    The apostrophe is for possession but do the manufacturers really own the list?

    • Jane says:

      This seems to be a false possessive, like a Beatles’ song or good New Orleans’ food, both of which are incorrect.

      It’s a list of manufacturers. If it listed fish, it would be a fish list, not a fish’s list. We’d say no apostrophe.

  37. Ken says:

    Hi,
    An editorial in the Irish Times newspaper recently used the word ‘Her’s’ twice.
    Is this correct.
    The sentence was Her’s was a . The same grammatical spelling was used later in the editorial.
    There was no possessive in either sentence.
    I am very surprised Ireland’s paper of repute has got its grammar so very wrong.

    • The sentences Ken is referring to are from an Irish Times editorial remembering Maya Angelou. The sentences are: “Her’s was a voice of elemental anger at indignity and injustice but never one of petty bitterness.” and “That presence drew its power from a great absence: her’s was the first self-portrait by a black American woman from the Deep South to attain a worldwide audience.” We do not consider ourselves experts in the rules that other countries follow, but an apostrophe is incorrect in the word hers (even though used as a possessive) in American English.

Leave a Reply