Apostrophe Misuse (with Examples)

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Apostrophe Misuses

Below are the most common misuses of apostrophes.

Do Not Use an Apostrophe to Form a Plural Noun

Do not use an apostrophe to form a plural. (It is considered a serious misuse of the apostrophe.) For example:
  • Dog's look up to us, and cat's look down on us. I prefer pig's because they treat us as equal's.
  • (These are all wrong.)
  • Dogs look up to us, and cats look down on us. I prefer pigs because they treat us as equals.
This error is particularly prevalent with abbreviations or when the singular version of the noun ends in a vowel.
  • Two CD's for the price of one
  • two video's
  • two patio's
When an apostrophe is misused in this way, it is known as a greengrocers' apostrophe. This terms comes from the tendency of greengrocers to misuse apostrophes on their signs (e.g., apple's, banana's).

Read about the rules for forming plurals.
Read about using apostrophes for awkward plurals.

When Using an Apostrophe for Possession, Put It on the Correct Side of the S

Here are some examples of apostrophes being misused for possession:
  • My smallest dogs' nose is white.
  • Both of my dog's noses are white.
  • Support our childrens' education.
The big question with an apostrophe used for possession is whether to put your apostrophe before the s or after the s.

Here's the general rule:

If the possessor is singular, the apostrophe goes before the s.
If the possessor is plural, the apostrophe goes after the s.


Here are some examples:
  • The cat's dinner (for one cat)
  • The cats' dinner (for more than one cat)
The possessor is the thing that owns whatever follows. In the first example, the possessor is cat. In the second, it is cats. (Be aware that the word owns is used in a very loose sense. The possessive apostrophe is not always about possession or ownership.)

Read more about the possessive case.

Unfortunately, there are several exceptions to the rule regarding a singular and plural possessor. For example:

If a plural noun does not end in s (e.g., children, people), then the apostrophe comes before the s in the possessive form (e.g., children's, people's).

If a singular noun ends in s (e.g., Jones, Moses), then the possessive form can be shown by adding just s or 's (e.g., Jones' or Jones's, Moses' or Moses's).

Read more about apostrophes used for possession.
Do some exercises on using apostrophes.

Do Not Invent Your Own Contractions

Apostrophes can be used to replace letters to form contractions (e.g., can't, don't, isn't, shan't). There is a list of acceptable contractions. You cannot invent your own ones. For example:
  • Can you play the g'tar?

When Forming a Contraction, Put the Apostrophe in the Right Place

When forming a contraction, make sure you use the apostrophe to replace the missing letter(s). It's not a common mistake, but it's a bad mistake. For example:
  • Your answer is'nt accurate.

The History of the Possessive Apostrophe

The principal function of an apostrophe is to replace a missing letter (e.g., don't, isn't). This is related to the possessive apostrophe.

In old English, possession was shown by adding es to the possessor regardless of whether the possessor was singular or plural. For example:
  • cates dinner
  • catses dinner
  • menes dinner
  • Joneseses dinner
Over time, the e was replaced by an apostrophe and if that left an ending of -s's, then the second s was removed.

This process still works for everything. There are no exceptions.

(1) Add es to the possessor
(2) Replace the e with '
(3) If left with s's, change to s'
Read more about using apostrophes.


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