Placing Your Apostrophe

Many writers get their apostrophe placement incorrect, or simply confuse some words with others. In an effort to ensure their writing is acceptable, writers have a tendency to either overuse or under use the apostrophe.

The most common area of writing where this occurs is with possession. A noun and a pronoun are two different things, and are treated as such when changing their possession.

When changing the possession of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an s. Examples: the dog’s bowl; the teacher’s chair.

When changing the possession of a pronoun, add an s without an apostrophe. Examples: hers; its; ours; theirs; yours.

Plurals are another problem. Adding an s to the end of a word indicates there is more than one, so no apostrophe is needed. Examples: the teachers had a meeting; she lost five pounds of fat. Certain words, however, need the addition of es or ies to aid with pronunciation. Examples: boxes; churches; countries; and most other words ending in ch, s, sh, x, y, z and a few ending in o.

When changing the possession of a plural noun, add the apostrophe after the s. Examples: the teachers’ car park was flooded; the students’ books were wet. The exception though is in the case of a plural noun, which as a singular, ended with an s. In this instance we would usually write the possessive plural noun as we hear it, with an s apostrophe s. Examples: the octopus’s garden; the witness’s version.

However, changing the possession of a singular noun that ends in s, x or z will usually require the addition of only the apostrophe. Examples: the octopus’ garden; the witness’ version.

There are also some plural nouns that do not end with an s, so they will need to have an apostrophe and an s added. Examples: children’s; men’s; women’s.

Another rule (though this one is rather old-fashioned) is if the noun consists of only one syllable, always add apostrophe s, but if two or more syllables, add only the apostrophe.

Multiple nouns are also difficult to write in the possessive form. In a sentence showing joint possession, the possessive closest to the noun shows possession. Examples: Tom and Mary’s holiday snaps look great; She was trying to clean Mary and Tom’s fish tank. If items are owned individually, a double possessive is used. Example: She walked Tom’s and Mary’s dogs (Tom and Mary each own a dog).

Contractions can also cause a problem. As people tend to write words as they sound, many of these words are written in place of the correct word. Some examples of contractions that are commonly confused:

  • they’re instead of there (or their)
  • there’s instead of theirs
  • you’re instead of your
  • won’t instead of wont
  • who’s instead of whose
  • it’s instead of its

Ultimately your apostrophe placement may depend on what you’re writing and/or who you are writing for. If there is an in-house style guide, you will need to stick to that. If a client has asked you to follow a particular style guide, example: the Chicago Manual of Style, then that is what you must follow.

If you are writing for yourself, the best course of action is to stick with your own country’s dialect and follow that standard of language. Most countries will have their own preferences and may even have a recommended style guide. The best place to find this information is at your local library.


Kristy Taylor is a syndicated freelance journalist with articles and short stories strewn across all forms of media. She has written and published numerous books, and is the executive editor of KT Publishing, which encompasses several web sites. For free listings of short story competitions visit http://www.shortstorycompetitions.com

To contact Kristy, email her at mail@kristytaylor.com


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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