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Using an apostrophe to show possession

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Using an apostrophe to show possession
May 22, 2019 1st Anniversary Wishes 4 comments

Apostrophes are hard-working little punctuation marks that can indicate a number of different Use an apostrophe + s to show possession for singular nouns.

The Quick Answer
Apostrophes are used to show possession. For example:
  • The horse's hay
  • The horses' hay
The big question is where to put the apostrophe. Does it go before or after the s? The quick answer:

For one horse (or one possessor), put the apostrophe before the s. For more than one horse (or more than one possessor), put the apostrophe after the s.

(Beware! There are some exceptions to this rule.)

Apostrophes Are Used to Show Possession

An apostrophe and the letter s are often used to show possession.

When using an apostrophe to show possession, the very first thing you have to think about is whether the possessor is singular or plural. This is important because it determines where your apostrophe goes. Look at these examples (the possessors are shown in bold):
  • The dog's kennel.
  • (With one dog, the apostrophe goes before the s.)
  • The dogs' kennel.
  • (With more than one dog, the apostrophe goes after the s.)
Below are some more examples with singular and plural possessors. The reason why apostrophes for possession cause so much trouble for writers is the number of exceptions to this basic rule. They are also covered below.

With a Singular Possessor, the Apostrophe Goes before the s

So, with one possessor, the apostrophe goes before the s.

For example:

With a Plural Possessor, the Apostrophe Goes after the s

With a plural possessor, the apostrophe goes after the s.

For example:
  • The horses' hay is damp.
  • (hay belonging to several horses)
  • The ladies' toilets are out of bounds.
  • (toilets belonging to all ladies, i.e., more than one)
  • The fairies' wings glistened in the moonlight.
  • (wings belonging to some fairies, i.e., more than one)

An Exception to the Rule (Plural Nouns Not Ending s)

Mistakes with apostrophes to show possession are very common. One reason for this is the number of exceptions to the rules above. For example, plural words which do not end in the letter s (e.g., men, people, children) take the apostrophe before the s when showing possession.


Exception to the Rule (Singular Nouns Ending s)

To make things even more complicated, singular words which end in s (e.g., Charles, Wales, Paris, Dickens) can end in ' (i.e., just an apostrophe) or 's when showing possession.

  • It is Charles' birthday. It is Charles's birthday.
  • (both correct)

Charles' or Charles's pal (both correct)
  • I have not seen Wales' new stadium.
  • I have not seen Wales's new stadium.
  • (Both of these are acceptable.)

Les' or Les's wife (both versions correct)

Both Charles' birthday and Charles's birthday are grammatically correct. However, as a guideline, you should use the version which best matches how you would pronounce it. In other words, use Charles's if you pronounce it "Charlesiz", but use Charles' if you pronounce it "Charles".

More examples:

Exception to the Rule (Compound Nouns)

Here is another quirk. Some compound nouns (e.g., sister-in-law) do not form their plurals by adding s to the end. The s is appended to the principal word (i.e., the plural is sisters-in-law). With a noun like this, the possessive form is created by adding 's to the end, regardless of whether it is singular or plural.

  • sister-in-law's pond
  • colonel-in-chief's arrival
  • maid of honour's bouquet
  • sisters-in-law's husbands
  • colonels-in-chief's meeting
  • maids of honour's dresses

Read more about forming the plurals of compound nouns.

Apostrophes with Joint Ownership

Finally, joint ownership is shown by making the last word in the series possessive. Individual ownership is shown by making both (or all) parts possessive.


Apostrophes serve two basic functions; they show possession and indicate Use an apostrophe after the "s" at the end of a plural noun to show possession.

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using an apostrophe to show possession

Apostrophe – How to Use It Correctly

The apostrophe – what is it by definition?

Many people make grammar mistakes either by missing the apostrophe or misplacing it. In English there are many punctuations marks each with different uses and an apostrophe is one of them. We shall discuss what an apostrophe is and get to know its uses and importance. Before we continue, we first need to know what an apostrophe is.

Apostrophe definition: this is a punctuation mark (‘) used to show either contractions in place of missing words (e.g. didn’t, won’t, can’t) or to show possession (peter’s car, John’s, boys’ toys).

Many times, the apostrophe is either misused or misunderstood. When an apostrophe is misplaced or is missing it can alter the meaning of the sentence or the sentence can make no meaning at all. This is because many people fail to understand what an apostrophe does.

Uses of apostrophe

Apostrophes are used for two major reasons that is:

  • To show contraction in place of missing words
  • To show possession.

Apostrophes help one to make their writing clear and precise. When apostrophes are used correctly it brings out the intended meaning.

  1.    Using an apostrophe to show possession

Apostrophes are used to show the possessive form of nouns. They show that an object belongs to the noun. The possessive form is obtained by adding “s” after an apostrophe. The position of the apostrophe varies for singular and plural nouns.

  •    An apostrophe can be used to show possession by a proper single noun. To show ownership, an apostrophe is put before an “s” in the proper noun indicating that the place, person or thing shows that what follows his or her name belongs to them. For example, Mike’s house. We know that the house belongs to mike because of the (‘) before the “s”. It unacceptable to indicate ownership for certain proper nouns. For example, “Monday’s racing activity “is incorrect because Monday is not capable of ownership. In other cases, an apostrophe is used to show an activity belong to a certain day or season. For example, “the month’s work” this means that that specific work was to be completed on that specific month. This is because the month is incapable of ownership.
  •    Consistency should be there when using apostrophes after words ending with an “s”. When somebody’s name ends with an “s” it is right to use an apostrophe without adding an “s” to show possession. For example, “Justus’ shoes.” It is also correct to add an “s” after the apostrophe. For example, “Francis’s car.” Whichever you choose to use make sure you are consistent with it.
  •    When using “it” do not use an apostrophe since it does not show ownership. It is right to say “United States’s export policy.” If your reader knows that you are talking about the United States you can refer to the country as “it”. When referring to something owned by united states you can say “its export policy”.

This is to avoid the confusion brought about when using “its” to show possession and “it’s” to show contraction of “it is”. At times one is not used whether to use an apostrophe or not. In such a case try constructing a sentence with “it has” or “it is”. Drop the apostrophe if the sentence does not make any sense.

  • An apostrophe can be used to show possession by a plural noun. For a plural group, apostrophe usage occurs when talking about what a family or group of people own. For example, say the brain family is your friends and they own a penthouse. The penthouse is “the Jacobs’ penthouse” and not “the Jacob’s penthouse”. This is because presumably all the Jacobs own the penthouse, hence an apostrophe is added after the “s”.
  • In other cases, the family’s last name ends with an “s,” before adding an apostrophe to it ‘make it plural. For example, if you want to talk about the Jones family, in a plural form they will become “the Joneses”. If it seems a bit awkward, drop the plural form by saying “the Jones family”
  • When listing specifics who owns an object, know where to place the apostrophe. For example, both Jacob and Elsy own a dog. It will be written “JACOB and Elsie’s dog and not Jacob’s and Elsie’s dog. This is because Jacob and Elsy is a cohesive noun and hence one apostrophe is needed.
  •    Avoid use of the apostrophe for plurals. Avoid using apostrophes to indicate a plural. If there is more than one ball, write balls not ball’s.
  •    For acronyms and years, one should know how and where to use apostrophes. In a case of using an acronym, say for a noun like DVD. To make its plural, use “DVDs,” and not DVD’s. The same case goes for years – instead of writing 1970’s use “1970s.’

An apostrophe is only used in a year if it is in place of omitted numbers. For example, if one needs to write a shorter form of the year 2002, you can write’02. In such a case it serves as shorthand and the apostrophe acts like it does in the case of contraction.

When using apostrophes to show possession, there are a few apostrophe rules to be followed to avoid confusion and use of apostrophe where they aren’t needed.

  • Use of apostrophe before “s” to show that an object is owned by one person. Example, Thecla’s car, Julius’s house. – it is correct to add an “s” even when the name ends with an “s” to show the ownership form.
  • When showing possession by a plural noun an apostrophe is added after the “s”. E.g. grandparents’ room, boys’ toys. Remember it isn’t a must to add another “s” to the plural noun.
  • To form the possessive form of a plural noun which doesn’t end with an “s” just add an apostrophe with “s”. e.g. children’s park.
  1.    Use of apostrophes in contraction

In informal writing, apostrophes are used to show missing letters. The missing letters can be one or more. For instance, the word ‘wouldn’t’ is the short form of “would not”; other examples include “don’t,”- “do not” “can’t,”- “cannot” “isn’t,”- “is not” “shouldn’t,”-“should not.”

Verbs such as is, has, have can also be contracted. For instance, “they have been reading the whole afternoon.” Can be written as “they’ve been reading the whole afternoon”; “she’s a new school bag” instead of “she has a new school bag.”

  • Its vs it’s trap. When using the word “it”, an apostrophe is used when indicating contraction for “it has” or ‘it is”. Possessive pronouns formed do not use an apostrophe. “It” is a pronoun hence it does not need an apostrophe before “s.” This is because in such a case you are talking about something belonging to an “it.” For example, the tree has beautiful flowers. Its flowers are pretty. Another example, it’s just the cow eating its grass. It’s is the contraction of it is while ‘its’ is the possessive pronoun. The sentence may seem complicated and confusing but it follows the same trend as that of other possessive pronouns: its, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs.
  • Some contractions do not exist hence avoid using them. In other cases, people may use informal contraction which do not exist. For example, “couldn’t’ve.” Such contraction should be avoided in formal writing.

Another mistake commonly made in contraction is the contraction of people’s names. For instance, if you write john’s as a contraction of “John is,” is not correct. “John’s” is possessive and not a contraction.

However, it is correct to use contraction for pronouns such as “she’s” or “he’s” which stands for “she is” and “he is” respectively.

When using an apostrophe for contraction, there is one apostrophe rule to be followed.

  • For two words to be combined, some letters needed to be omitted to form a contraction. An apostrophe is put in their place. E.g. aren’t – are not

Examples in sentence

Just like other punctuation marks such as comma, full stop, etc. are used in sentences, apostrophe too can be used in one way or another in sentence construction. Depending on how the apostrophe has been used in a sentence it will always bring out a different meaning. Be careful not to misuse or misplace an apostrophe.

In the sentences below, we are going to look at the different examples of an apostrophe in sentences.

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  •    Personal pronoun contraction.

Personal pronouns are sometimes combined with the verb “to be,” “will,” “have,” “would,” and “had.” The way the contraction is formed may vary from pronoun to pronoun. The table below will help one understand how to form personal pronoun contraction and hence apply them in sentences.

pronoun+will+to be+ have/has+ would/had

From the table above, we can form sentences using personal pronoun contraction.

  1. I’m the one who called you yesternight.
  2. I’ll be coming to your place tomorrow.
  3. If you had called tom you’d have the answer right now.
  4. They’ll be in town by noon.
  5. He’s the one who saved the child.
  6. We’re supposed to clean the church tomorrow.
  7. You’ve washed the clothes well.
  8. Jane’s dog is in the house.

When forming contraction for a negative form of certain verbs’ apostrophes are useful too. The table below will help one know how to form verb contraction and thereby apply them in sentences.

Regular verbVerb + negativecontraction
AreAre notAren’t
isIs notIsn’t
DoDo notDon’t
DidDid notDidn’t
willWill notWon’t
mustMust notMustn’t
CouldCould notCouldn’t
HadHad notHadn’t
HaveHave notHaven’t
wouldWould notWouldn’t
HasHas notHasn’t

From the above table, we know how to form contraction of verbs and hence can use them in sentences.

Examples in sentences include:

  • Aren’t we going home yet?
  • Sharon is a good girl, isn’t it?
  • Don’t talk to strangers.
  • They didn’t finish their assignment on time.
  • Can’t we just agree on one thing?
  • Mercy won’t be able o pass by the mall to buy sugar.
  • Children mustn’t demand things their parents cannot afford,
  • They couldn’t make it to the stadium on time.


possession by a singular noun.

in writing, we use apostrophes before “s” to show possession of singular nouns.

Examples in sentences include:

  •    Jacob’s girlfriend is beautiful.
  •    David’s favorite game is football.
  •    Math is my son’s favorite subject.
  •    The city’s stadium was filled with people for the football game on Saturday.
  •    Abby’s tablet was stolen during her math lesson.
  •    You can buy the dog’s meat at the market later.


Nouns, in their plural form, end with an “s” or “es”. In English adding an apostrophe the “s’” after an “s” may seem a bit awkward. Hence in cases of plural nouns, we just add an apostrophe after the “s”.

Examples in sentences include:

  •    The girls’ dolls are blue and red.
  •    The cars’ keys were in the locked room for days.
  •    The teachers’ bags are all in the staffroom.
  •    The families’ pets were all fluffy.

People tend to make mistakes with apostrophes when it comes to forming plurals. When forming plurals of nouns an apostrophe is not needed. The plural is formed by either adding an “s” or “es” depending on the noun. An apostrophe is added to the plural only when showing possession i.e. when showing that the objects in question belong to the nouns being talked about.

Am certain that with this guide you are now set to use apostrophe in the right way without making mistakes. It is now your role to practice on the mentioned apostrophe uses so as to perfect your language.

WATCH THE VIDEO ON THEME: Punctuation: Using apostrophes to show singular & plural possession (KS2)
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Apostrophes: Grammar Rules For Showing Possession

using an apostrophe to show possession

Apostrophes can be tricky. Sometimes they form possessives. Sometimes they form contractions. Can they ever make something plural?

Apostrophe Use: Contractions and Omissions

A contraction is a shortened form of a word (or group of words) that omits certain letters or sounds. In a contraction, an apostrophe represents missing letters. The most common contractions are made up of verbs, auxiliaries, or modals attached to other words: He would=He’d. I have=I’ve. They are=They’re. You cannot=You can’t.

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Some writers use less common contractions when they want to represent a particular style of speech. They might write somethin’ to represent the way people often don’t pronounce the final g of “something” in speech. Occasionally, you might see e’er (instead of ever) in poetry. And, of course, in the American South, you will probably encounter y’all (you all). Decade names are often contracted as well: the ’60s (the 1960s).

-n’tnotIsn’t (is not), hasn’t (has not)
-‘reareThey’re (they are), we’re (we are), you’re (you are)
-‘dhad, wouldShe’d (she had, she would), I’d (I had, I would)
-‘llwillWe’ll (we will), you’ll (you will)
-‘sisHe’s (he is), it’s (it is)
I’mI am
let’slet us

Contractions are usually considered to be relatively casual. If you’re writing something very formal, you may want to avoid using them except in cases like o’clock, where the full phrase (of the clock) truly is rare.

Apostrophes and Possessive Nouns

The rules about forming possessives probably cause the most apostrophe confusion. They vary a little bit, depending on what type of noun you are making into a possessive. Here are the rules of thumb:

For most singular nouns, add apostrophe+s:

For most plural nouns, add only an apostrophe:

For plural nouns that do not end in s, add apostrophe+s:

Style guides vary in their recommendations of what to do when you have a singular proper noun that ends in s. Some recommend adding only an apostrophe:

Others say to add apostrophe+s:

No matter which style guide you use, add only the apostrophe to plural proper nouns that end in s:

Use whichever style matches the style guide you use for your writing. If you don’t have a style guide, it’s OK to just pick one of the methods, as long as you don’t switch back and forth within the same document.

Apostrophes and Possessive Pronouns

Personal pronouns, unlike regular nouns, do not use apostrophes to form possessives. Most writers don’t have trouble with the possessive pronouns my, mine, his, her, and our.  It’s your, yours, hers, its, ours, their, and theirs, that tend to cause the confusion. The relative possessive pronoun whose is also frequently the victim of apostrophe abuse. Note that none of these forms uses an apostrophe. In fact, for some of these pronouns, adding an apostrophe forms a contraction instead of a possessive (see the table above).

PronounPossessive PronounAbsolute (Independent) Form

How to Write Joint Possession

What do you do with the apostrophe when you’re talking about things that belong to more than one person? When one thing belongs to two or more people, make only the final name possessive:

When you’re talking about separate things that belong to different people, make all the names possessive:

Using possessive personal pronouns in joint constructions often sounds awkward (You have their and my gratitude). Usually, the best solution is to rephrase the sentence to avoid the joint construction (You have our gratitude or You have their gratitude and mine).

Apostrophes and Plurals

Using an unnecessary apostrophe to form the plural of a noun is a very common mistake. Sometimes, it’s called the grocer’s apostrophe because of how frequently it is spotted in grocery store advertisements (3 orange’s for a dollar!). Don’t do it! With very few exceptions, apostrophes do not make nouns plural.

The one notable exception to this rule is the plural form of lowercase letters, which are formed with an apostrophe to prevent misreading:

Apostrophes with Surrounding Punctuation

An apostrophe is part of the word it belongs to, so it should not be separated from the word by periods, commas, question marks, or any other punctuation mark.

In the second example, take note of the apostrophe at the beginning of ’Twas. Apostrophes that fall at the very beginning of a contraction are often mistyped as left-hand single quotation marks. Word processors tend to do this by default. Keep this in mind, especially when you are writing about specific decades, such as the ’60s or the ’90s.

When to Check a Style Guide

Sooner or later, you’ll come across a phrase that sounds fine out loud but looks weird on paper because of the apostrophes. Do’s and don’ts? Dos and don’ts? Do’s and don’t’s? For cases like these, it’s best to check a comprehensive style guide, such as the Chicago Manual or the AP Stylebook (it’s do’s and don’ts, according to the AP). A good dictionary may also be able to offer you some guidance. If you can’t find a precedent, it’s probably best to use a different word or phrase; overly creative apostrophe use will inevitably distract your readers.

writing, words that use apostrophes for missing letters (i.e. contractions and IS A CONTRACTION OR SHOWS POSSESSION, USE AN APOSTROPHE S e.g.

Possessive Forms

using an apostrophe to show possession

How To Use An Apostrophe (’)

Are you uncertain about when to use an apostrophe? Many people have difficulty with this punctuation mark. The best way to get apostrophes right is to understand when and why they are used. There are two main cases – click on the links below to find straightforward guidance:

People are often unsure about whether they should use its (without an apostrophe) or its (with an apostrophe). For information about this, you can go straight to the section it's or its?

Apostrophes showing possession

You use an apostrophe to show that a thing or person belongs or relates to someone or something: instead of saying the party of Ben or the weather of yesterday, you can write Ben’s party and yesterday’s weather.

Here are the main guidelines for using apostrophes to show possession:

Singular nouns and most personal names

With a singular noun or most personal names: add an apostrophe plus s:

We met at Ben’s party.

The dog’s tail wagged rapidly.

Yesterday’s weather was dreadful.

Personal names that end in –s

With personal names that end in -s: add an apostrophe plus s when you would naturally pronounce an extra s if you said the word out loud:

He joined Charles’s army in 1642.

Dickens's novels provide a wonderful insight into Victorian England.

Thomas's brother was injured in the accident.

Note that there are some exceptions to this rule, especially in names of places or organizations, for example:

St Thomas’ Hospital

If you aren’t sure about how to spell a name, look it up in an official place such as the organization’s website.

With personal names that end in -s but are not spoken with an extra s: just add an apostrophe after the -s:

The court dismissed Bridges' appeal.

Connors' finest performance was in 1991.

Plural nouns that end in –s

With a plural noun that already ends in -s: add an apostrophe after the s:

The mansion was converted into a girls’ school.

The work is due to start in two weeks’ time.

My duties included cleaning out the horses’ stables.

Plural nouns that do not end in -s

With a plural noun that doesn’t end in –s: add an apostrophe plus s:

The children’s father came round to see me.

He employs 14 people at his men’s clothing store.

The only cases in which you do not need an apostrophe to show belonging is in the group of words called possessive pronouns - these are the words his, hers, ours, yours, theirs (meaning ‘belonging to him, her, us, you, or them’) - and with the possessive determiners. These are the words his, hers, its, our, your, their (meaning 'belonging to or associated with him, her, it, us, you, or them'). See also it's or its?

Apostrophes showing omission

An apostrophe can be used to show that letters or numbers have been omitted. Here are some examples of apostrophes that indicate missing letters:

I’m - short for I am

he’ll - short for he will

she’d– short for she hador she would

pick n’ mix - short for pick and mix

it’s hot - short for it is hot

didn’t - short for did not

It also shows that numbers have been omitted, especially in dates, e.g. the Berlin Wall came down in the autumn of ’89 (short for 1989).

It’s or its?

These two words can cause a lot of confusion: many people are uncertain about whether or not to use an apostrophe. These are the rules to remember:

  • its (without an apostrophe) means ‘belonging to it’:

The dog wagged its tail.

Each case is judged on its own merits.

  • it’s (with an apostrophe) means ‘it is’ or ‘it has’:

It’s been a long day.

It’s cold outside.

It’s a comfortable car and it’s got some great gadgets.

Apostrophes and plural forms

The general rule is that you should not use an apostrophe to form the plurals of nouns, abbreviations, or dates made up of numbers: just add -s (or -es, if the noun in question forms its plural with -es). For example:

(e.g. The cost of the trip is 570 euros.)
(e.g. Traditional Italian pizzas are thin and crisp.)
(e.g. She buys big bags of organic apples and carrots.)
(e.g. Local MPs are divided on this issue.)
(e.g. The situation was different in the 1990s.)

It's very important to remember this grammatical rule.

There are one or two cases in which it is acceptable to use an apostrophe to form a plural, purely for the sake of clarity:

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters:

I've dotted the i's and crossed the t's.

Find all the p's in appear.

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers:

Find all the number 7’s.

These are the only cases in which it is generally considered acceptable to use an apostrophe to form plurals: remember that an apostrophe should never be used to form the plural of ordinary nouns, names, abbreviations, or numerical dates.

You can read more rules and guidelines about apostrophes on the Oxford Dictionaries blog. Here you will find further examples of correct and incorrect use of apostrophes.


Back to punctuation.

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WATCH THE VIDEO ON THEME: When to use apostrophes - Laura McClure

You can use an apostrophe to show possession. Find out more in this Bitesize Primary KS2 English guide.

using an apostrophe to show possession
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