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The Apostrophe

The apostrophe may be small, but it is a vital and helpful punctuation mark, and all too often is used incorrectly (or not at all), creating confusion about its purposes. Here I will go over the correct uses of the apostrophe, as well as some common mistakes made when using it.

The two primary uses of the apostrophe are to show possessives and contractions.

An additional function of the apostrophe, in certain cases, is to show plurals, but this is rare and often where mistakes lie.


If something belongs to someone or something, it is shown by an apostrophe and the letter s:

John's guitar, the rainbow's end, my brother's friend,

and in the case of plurals:

my friends' car, in three years' time, James's stereo

(A major exception to this rule is the word "its" - even though it is used to mean something belonging to whatever "it" represents, it does not use an apostrophe, to help distinguish it from the contraction of "it is": it's. For example: "it's a sunny day outside" vs. "its feathers were brown")

And that brings us to Contractions:

A contraction is two words commonly used together, that have been turned into one. The apostrophe represents the letter(s) that have been removed, such as: we're (we are), can't (can not), he's (he is or he has), won't (will not - the contraction is changed slightly).


The only time an apostrophe is used to denote a plural is when the word being pluralized is an abbreviation, acronym, number, or otherwise unusual. Such as:

CD's, YMCA's, 1980's, E's etc.

This is a common area of misuse - using an apostrophe to make an ordinary word plural. A statement like "Buy CD's, DVD's, and vinyl record's" would be incorrect, because only the abbreviations need apostrophes as plurals.

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