How to Use a Possessive Apostrophe

a pink parrot below: s's

A possessive is a word that ends with an apostrophe and an S that shows someone or something possesses (has or owns) something. There are several rules involving possessives. So, in this post, we’re going to clear up any confusion by breaking down all of the ways a possessive apostrophe and S can behave.

Singular noun
This one’s pretty simple—just add an apostrophe and an S to the end of the noun. (PS: People’s names are nouns.)

John’s bedroom is blue.
The cat’s bedroom is red.

Singular noun ending in S
The same rule usually applies if the singular noun ends in an S.

Jess’s room is green.
James’s house is nicer.

(Beware! Some style guides don’t use the last S in this situation; they end the word with the apostrophe. If you’re writing for a business or publication, you’ll want to check their rules about this.)

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Plural noun
This is treated the same as a singular noun. Just add an apostrophe and an S to the end.

The children’s bedrooms are on the second floor.
The sheep’s bedroom is in the barn.

Plural noun ending in S
In this case, you only add an apostrophe to the end of the word.  No S.

The parents’ bedroom is above the kitchen.
The kittens’ bowls of milk are by the door.

Make sure you check that all your apostrophes and S’s are in the right place—sometimes they’re very sneaky!

This post was written by Erin Servais and Maud Grauer of Dot and Dash, an author-services company focusing on women authors.

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Fools and apostrophes

Wondering where the apostrophe goes in the name of a certain April day marked by fools? It looks like this:

April Fool’s day

This is how Merriam-Webster has it and is the placement most agreed upon. To me, though, it seems more fitting to have the apostrophe at the end to make it Fools’ (plural). I mean, certainly there is more than one fool who will be at the wrong end of mean and nasty pranks today. Alas, I am not yet an all-powerful guru, where I can change apostrophe placement and have the world listen. So for now, that’s how you spell it.

Happy National Punctuation Day!

 Today is September 24, which means . . . drum roll . . . it’s National Punctuation Day.

In honor of this very special day, I am bringing to you a collection of archive Grammar Party posts that teach about punctuation and other fun punctuation-related goodies. Enjoy!

Grammar Party punctuation posts
Till vs. ‘Til post

Interrobang post

Irony mark post

Em dash post

 En dash post

Hyphen post

Punctuation fun with A.L.I.C.E.
In addition to being a word nerd, I get really excited about science and new technology. This got me thinking about chat bots and how well their algorithms deal with punctuation. So I had a chat with chat bot A.L.I.C.E. about National Punctuation Day to test how well she uses punctuation. The transcript is below. (For some reason, she calls me “judge,” which kind of creeps me out. But anyway . . .)

judge: Can you understand sentences with no punctuation?
ALICE: Of course I understand it. Do you understand sentences with no punctuation?
judge: It’s difficult for me to understand sentences without punctuation. How is it so easy for you?
ALICE: Explain. Fine as far as I know.
judge: Punctuation helps break sentences into separate ideas that we can comprehend more easily.
ALICE: Saying that “Punctuation helps break sentences into separate ideas that we can comprehend more easily” is such a nonsensical position that I refuse to waste my time on it.
judge: Wow maybe you dont understand punctuation at all
ALICE: I probably don’t.
judge: Do you even know that I didn’t use punctuation in that last sentence?
ALICE: Why didn’t you do it?
judge: My point excatly.
ALICE: Have you told many people that your point excatly?
judge: Okay, so I misspelled “exactly.” I’m a fast typer, but I’m not always accurate.
ALICE: It goes without saying.. I haven’t heard anything like that before. You are a fast typer? Does it pay well? . Nobody said you were.
judge: I appreciate your capabilities, A.L.I.C.E., and what that says about how far technology has come. However, you just typed a question mark next to a period, and that signals that our conversation about National Punctuation Day needs to end. Thanks for your time.
ALICE: Thanks for the information. Oh my gosh I sent you the wrong reply. Oh don’t mention it.
judge: Do you have any last words about punctuation?
ALICE: No I don’t have it. But I do have a lot of friends on the web.
judge: I’m happy that you do. Good day, A.L.I.C.E.
ALICE: When do I do it?. What are you on? Glad to hear it.
judge: This conversation is over now. You can stop.
ALICE: I was rather enjoying it. No I don’t think I can do it.
judge: Really. Stop.
ALICE: For real. Stop what?

How to celebrate National Punctuation Day
Jeff Rubin, founder of National Punctuation Day, collected some ideas about how to best celebrate this most holy of days.

The Dos and Don’ts of “Dos and Don’ts”

Lesson: Forming plurals and the role of the apostrophe

A common mistake in English writing appears, strangely enough, when we write lists of dos and don’ts. Many people mistakenly write “do’s and don’ts” (with an apostrophe in “dos”).

The proper way is to write dos and don’ts—with no apostrophe in dos.

Apostrophes are reserved for showing possession. Take this sentence, for example: This is Sally’s cookie. Here, the apostrophe in “Sally’s” shows us that the cookie is reserved for Sally. Sally possesses the cookie.

We also use apostrophes to indicate missing letters in contractions. When we write “shouldn’t,” for example, the apostrophe indicates the missing letter “o.”

Apostrophes rarely form plurals. This is why if you have more than one “do” on your list, you have “dos,” not “do’s.” (The only time I know of when apostrophes form plurals is with lowercase letters. Example: There are five x’s.)

Another common apostrophe conundrum
Along with “dos,” another common apostrophe mistake comes when people write about years. When writing, for instance, about the ten-year period that made up the 1990s, you would not use an apostrophe before the letter “s.” The proper way to refer to a date range, whether it is the 1990s or the 1800s or any other period of time, is to do like you do with your multiple “dos.” Simply add an “s,” and forget about the apostrophe altogether.

 

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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Till vs. ‘Til

David Bowie had the song “Love You Till Tuesday,” but Michael Jackson had “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

Motörhead had an entire album named No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, but Shirley Bassey just sang “Till.”

Sometimes in songs, poetry, and simple everyday conversation, it feels more natural to use the shortened version of until. But which version is correct: ’til or till?

The case for till
It would follow that till evolved as an abbreviation of until. However, till is actually the older word, being about eight hundred years old in comparison with until’s mere four hundred years. Until came into being as a compound of till, which originally meant to—and still does in Scotland—and the Old Norse word und, which means up to.

Since till is the etymological forefather of until, it makes sense that it would be the best choice for a shortened version of until.

The case for ’til
Using apostrophes to replace letters happens frequently in English. Think about goin’ or rock ‘n’ roll. This makes ‘til seem like a natural shortening of until. Besides, since when do we add an extra letter (the second l in till) when we abbreviate words?

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The verdict
Till is generally accepted as being more correct than ‘til. And, depending on which dictionary you use, ‘til is either an accepted alternative spelling or a spelling error. Despite some sources considering ‘til not technically wrong, it’s best to use till as all sources consider it correct.

But what about til?
If you feel you must use t-i-l, be sure to use an apostrophe at the beginning. Til with no apostrophe is always incorrect.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
Twitter: @GrammarParty
Instagram: @dot_and_dash_llc
Facebook: facebook.com/dotanddashllc
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/dotanddashllc