There are only 3 main uses for the apostrophe, yet using the apostrophe properly is a confusing task. This article describes the proper uses and improper uses, to help people improve their writing.

The beloved apostrophe is intended to do three main things: to show possession, to show omission, and to make plurals in rare, special cases.

Apostrophe’s purpose number one: apostrophes are excellent indicators of possession. There is an example of this at the beginning of this sentence. If I want to say I own the shoes, while my husband pays the bill, I would call them Angela’s shoes and Joe’s Manolo Blahnik bill.

In most cases, the apostrophe is placed right after the name of the person, place, or thing (a.k.a. noun) that owns it, and before the “s” that shows possession. Because the English language can describe various types of possession in glorious profusion, here are some helpful tips for common possession scenarios:

Your word already ends in “s”. Don’t add another ‘s’! Just let the apostrophe hang out there at the end of the word. For example: the horses’ bridles, a party at the Edwards’.

Two nouns own one thing. Give the apostrophe to the last noun. For example: Joe and Angela’s herb garden.

Two nouns own two things. Give each noun an apostrophe. For example: Jenny’s and Jessie’s dresses.

You use a pronoun that owns something. Please, don’t add an apostrophe. Just leave it alone. For example: We gave the cat its shots; the idea was yours.

Apostrophe’s second use: apostrophes show where letters have been removed in a word or words. This is the easiest part to remember – if you’ve lost letters, put an apostrophe where the letters should have been! For example: Cannot becomes can’t; Four of the clock becomes four o’clock; 2007 becomes ’07.

Apostrophe’s third use: in some rare, very special cases, the apostrophe can show a plural. Use an apostrophe if you are talking about plurals of numbers or letters. For example: 1990’s; Ph.D.’s.

You can also add an apostrophe if you’re using words as words, where leaving out an apostrophe would cause confusion. For example: Rules are a list of do’s and don’ts (if there was no apostrophe after “do’s”, people might confuse it with the disk operating system acronym DOS).

Other apostrophe uses: apostrophes can also be used as a symbol for measurement in feet. Also, the apostrophe can be used to indicate a quote inside a quote. For example: She said, “The pastor told me, ‘Jesus wasn’t white’, and I was surprised!”

Understanding the proper rules for using the apostrophe will add a level of professionalism to your communications. Proper punctuation is a must for all writers. Still confused? Pearl Writing Services is a freelance writing business that can polish your writing and get your communications noticed!

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