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“My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.”
Ernest Hemingway, letter, May 15, 1925


To indicate the omission of one or more letters in a word, whether unpronounced, as in o’er for over, or pronounced, as in gov’t for government; to indicate the possessive case, as in woman’s; or to indicate plurals of abbreviations and symbols, as in several M.D.’s, p’s. But do NOT use apostrophes for possessive pronouns or for noun plurals.

Apostrophe cartoon
Courtesy of angryflower.com

Forming possessives of nouns

Add ’s to the singular form of the word (even if it ends in -s):
The owner’s car; James’s hat

Add ’s to the plural forms that do not end in -s:
The children’s game; the geese’s honking

Add to the end of plural nouns that end in -s:
Houses’ roofs; friends’ letters

Add ’s to the end of compound words:
My brother-in-law’s money

Add ’s to the last noun to show joint possession of an object:
Todd and Anne’s apartment

— Owl On-Line Writing Lab —

If it doesn’t translate to “it is,” then use “its” instead of “it’s.”
The team celebrated its victory.
It’s a victory for the team.

Forming plurals of lowercase letters

Apostrophes are used to form plurals of letters that appear in lowercase. The rule appears to be more typographical than grammatical, e.g. “three ps” versus “three p’s.” To form the plural of a lowercase letter, place ’s after the letter.

There is no need for apostrophes indicating a plural on capitalized letters, numbers, and symbols (though some editors, teachers, and professors still prefer them).

  • p’s and q’s = a phrase indicating politeness.
  • There are two Macintosh G4s currently being used.
  • The 1960s = the years in a decade from 1960 to 1969.

— Owl On-Line Writing Lab —


FIGURES: Add s: The custom began in the 1920s (’20s). The airline has two 747s. Temperatures will be in the low 20s. There were five size 7s.

SINGLE LETTERS: Use ’s: He brought home a report card with four A’s and two B’s.

MULTIPLE LETTERS: Add s: She knows her ABCs. I gave him five IOUs. Four VIPs were there.

— The Associated Press Stylebook —

For information about usage of the apostrophe, click here to consult one of the many style books listed on the Resources page

Contact Jeff Rubin for more information about punctuation
(510) 724-9507