The Correct Use of the Apostrophe in the English Language

The rules concerning the use of apostrophes in written English are very simple:

1.They are used to denote a missing letter or letters, for example:

  • I can't instead of I cannot

  • I don't instead of I do not

  • it's instead of it is or it has

2. They are used to denote possession, for example:

  • the dog's bone

  • the company's logo

  • Jones's bakery

This applies to all nouns, so the correct versions are Jesus's disciples, Keats's poems and so on.

Please note that “its”, which is usually used as a possessive adjective (like “our”, “his” etc), does not take an apostrophe:

  • the dog ate its bone and we ate our dinner

However, if there are two or more dogs, companies or Joneses in our example, the apostrophe comes after the 's':

  • the dogs' bones

  • the companies' logos

  • Joneses' bakeries

3. Apostrophes are NEVER ever used to denote plurals! Common examples of such abuse (all seen in real life!) are:

  • Banana's for sale which of course should read Bananas for sale

  • Menu's printed to order which should read Menus printed to order

  • MOT's at this garage which should read MOTs at this garage

  • 1000's of bargains here! which should read 1000s of bargains here!

  • New CD's just in! which should read New CDs just in!

  • Buy your Xmas tree's here! which should read Buy your Xmas trees here!

Note: Special care must be taken over the use of “your” and “you're” as they sound the same but are used quite differently:

  • your is possessive as in this is your pen

  • you're is short for “you are” as in you're coming over to my house

The Examples pages shows a selection of real-life apostrophe abuse examples.

The Useful Links page has links to various published articles and books that include more guidance on the correct use of apostrophes and other punctuation.