Dr. Monal Desai and Akanksha Tripathi

Does apostrophe baffle me?

Many a time you come across the problem about where to use an apostrophe. To do away with this dilemma, you should, first of all, know what it is and where to use it.

Apostrophe: It is a symbol signified as  to show contraction from where the letter(s) is omitted or belongingness.

What it is

  • a contracted form
  • a symbol of possession
  • commonly used by native speakers in verbal communication  to save time and increase fluency

What it is not

  • a substitute for a quotation mark
  • a figure of speech or literary device

Should I use it to show ownership of non-living?

No, absolutely not, you can’t (cannot) say Car’s wheels. You should say wheels of the car. Rather than ‘a chair’s legs,’ one should say ‘legs of a chair.’ Apostrophe, when used in terms of ownership or possession, is used for living beings because ownership is something that talks about possession of living beings.

Now, the question arises, can I use Apostrophe in Academic Writing?

Rule No. 1: You should not use the contracted form in academic writing unless it is used in a quote.

Rule No. 2: You can use apostrophe ‘s’ in case you wish to show belongingness/ownership/possession.

Where shall I use Apostrophe? Possessive vs. Contractions

There are basically two uses of Apostrophe:

  1. You use it for combining and contracting two words for the sake of convenience in writing, just as we speak, especially shorthand. For example:
  • It’s easy to reckon these days the magnitude of calamity with the help of modern technology.

In this example, ‘It’s’ is a contracted form of It is.

  • There’s a long discussion on the postmodernist views of Michel Foucault and Jean-Francois Lyotard in the symposium held at IITGn.

In this instance, There’s a contracted form of There was.

Similarly, we can use it for He’s He is, She’s She is/was, They’re They are/were, Ain’t is a contraction for am not, is not, are not,

Hasn’t, haven’t, has not and have not, doesn’t is the contraction of does not, and don’t is for do not.

  1. The apostrophe is also used with singular and plural noun to indicate belongingness/ownership/possession or membership.
  • James’s research work got patent in 2011.
  • Heena’s car is very expensive.

In the case of pronouns, can I use an apostrophe?

No, you can’t. Instead, when pronouns are used to show belongingness/possession/ownership, ‘apostrophe’ is omitted. Only ‘s’ is used in the word.

For instance: its, theirs, yours, hers, and so on.

How to use an apostrophe with a singular noun?

There are different rules for using an apostrophe in singular nouns, ending with and without ‘s’.

1.Singular Noun Ending without ‘S’: When the noun ends with any letter except ‘s’, the construction pattern is noun+apostrophe+s, i.e., Harry+’+s

  • Henry’s report clearly indicates that pathogens in the human body developed at exceedingly great speed when exposed to the atmosphere.

Here the words, ‘Henry’s report’ show ownership of a report by Henry or report owned by Henry.  

  1. It becomes irksome if a singular word ends with ‘s’ for example:

Singular Noun Ending with ‘S’: If a singular noun ends with ‘s’, there are two patterns for you to follow:

Henry James’s vs. Henry James’

  1. Henry James’s criticism of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ was on the ground that the followers of this belief did not talk about morality in their art form.

Here to avoid confusion, construction will be same as for other singular nouns by adding ‘‘s’.

  1. Henry James’ criticism of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ was on the ground that the followers of this belief did not talk about morality in their art form.

Here apostrophe is used after ‘s’ though, s does not denote plurality here; the name ends with s. It is advisable not to choose this pattern as it is a touch unclear.

What if the possession is shared among two or more people?

There are rules in the formation of plural words. The apostrophe is placed accordingly in the word.

Rule 1: If a plural is formed in a regular way by adding ‘s’, Apostrophe is placed after ‘s’.

For example:

  • Bronte sisters’ novels were written under a pseudonym, for they believed that if they would use their names as authors, they won’t (would not) find readers to their novels.
  • Students’ grades were consistent throughout their semester exams.

In this example: construction of the sentence is followed by plural noun adding s and putting an apostrophe after ‘s’.

Rule 2: Another example where individual names are used to show plurality in place of common noun (say, students):

For example:

  • Ritesh and George’s marks were consistent throughout their semester exams.

When such is the case apostrophe is used with the last name modifying both the nouns.

  • Ritesh and George’s friends are waiting for them in the lounge.
  • Ritesh’s and George’s friends are waiting for them in the lounge.

In the latter example, Ritesh and George do not share a common friendship. They have separate friends. In the former case, both have common friends.

Rule 3: Let us see another example when the plurals are made without using regular ‘s’ pattern for instance-

Women, children or men, in this case, if you have to show possession, you will add ‘s to the words just as you add to regular singular words for e.g. Women’s magazine or Children’s books or Men’s behavior.

How am I going to use an apostrophe with a compound noun?

In the case of compound nouns, construction will be as follows:

Singular: His mother in law’s approval is essential to dissolve this partnership.

Plural: His brothers in law’s approval is essential to dissolve this partnership.

In this example, word brothers show plurality while ‘s in law’s indicates- approval of them.