In everyday English, an apostrophe is used in a variety of circumstances. It is quite easy to place apostrophes incorrectly.  By misplacing or missing an apostrophe, the writer could create confusion and change the meaning of the original thought.  Apostrophes are usually used in the following situations: possessive form, word contraction, and abbreviation of years.


Nouns that show ownership, or possession, of something or someone need particular formatting to convey that relationship. When these nouns are in possessive form, they act more like adjectives because they are modifying another noun.

Singular Possessive

For singular nouns, place an apostrophe and an “s” at the end of the word.

Original: The food belonging to the cat makes me lose my appetite.

Possessive: The cat’s food makes me lose my appetite.

Here, the singular noun “cat” is modifying food. It is showing that the food belongs to the cat.

Plural Possessive

For many plural nouns that already end in “s,” the apostrophe is placed at the end of the word.

Original: The clothes belonging to the girls are more colorful than those belonging to the boys.

Possessive: The girls’ clothes are more colorful than the boys’.

In the above example, both “girls” and “boys” require an apostrophe at the end because each one ends in “s,” and each one is describing and expressing ownership of their respective clothes.


There are exceptions to every rule. There are some plural forms of words that do not end in “s,” which require an apostrophe and an “s” at the end of the word, just like singular nouns. There are also some nouns that end in “s” even though they are singular, and they require an apostrophe at the end of the word. Below is a list of a few examples.

  • children to children’s
  • women to women’s
  • cactus to cactus’
  • data to data’s
  • men to men’s
  • deer to deer’s
  • cacti to cacti’s
  • syllabi to syllabi’s

Choose Your Own Apostrophe

When you have a last name that ends in “s,” you can choose whether you want to just add an apostrophe or an apostrophe and an “s.”

Original: The Jones adopted the kitty.

Appropriate: The Jones’ kitty adoption.

Appropriate: The Jones’s kitty adoption


In casual language, you can often push two words together by placing an apostrophe between them, which will then form a single word. These are called contractions. The apostrophe acts like a substitute for any omitted letters. There are many contractions–too many to list in this handout–but here’s a few common ones in the list below.

Phrase Contraction
do not don’t
are not aren’t
has not hasn’t
were not weren’t
does not doesn’t
could not couldn’t
he will, she will he’ll, she’ll
cannot can’t
did not didn’t
had not hadn’t
I will I’ll
he is, she is he’s, she’s
we have we’ve
it is it’s
you are you’re

Example One

Original: I have been…

Contraction: I’ve been…

Example Two

Original: I am…

Contraction: I’m…

Example Three

Original: You all would have…

Contraction: Y’all’d’ve

NOTE: Make sure that contractions are appropriate to use when writing your papers.

Abbreviations of Numbers

In some situations, an apostrophe can be used in lieu of the first two numbers of a year.

Original: 2016, 1986, summer of 1969

Abbreviation: ’16, ’86, summer of ’69

NOTE: The correct apostrophe in this case tilts to the right (arches from the bottom up.) Word will automatically do it the other way if you don’t correct.

Default: (inappropriate) ‘

In this case: (appropriate) ’

Depending on your assignment, ’16 might be confused for the previous century (1916), so be sure it’s clear about when you’re discussing.

These abbreviations are not always appropriate, depending on what it is you are writing. Always check with your instructor about his or her preferences when it comes to style, tone, and formatting.