Apostrophe Cheat Sheet

By guest blogger Jeanette Martinez

Apostrophe Etiquette

When determining the wording for stationery, it’s important to keep in mind proper punctuation, grammar etiquette and sentence structure. One of the most difficult punctuation uses to grasp is the elusive apostrophe. However, if you can remember a few simple rules, mastering its usage will be a cinch.

Rule 1:

In the English language, the apostrophe is used in only two situations: to indicate the possessive form of a noun or pronoun, and to mark the omission of certain characters, as in a contraction. One of the most common mistakes is using the apostrophe to indicate a plural. This mistake is often seen in the signature line of a family greeting, such as in the case of “love, the Smith’s.” No matter how much you want to add that apostrophe, no matter how cute you think it looks, for the sake of the noble apostrophe and grammar gurus everywhere, just don’t do it!

Rule 2:

When using the apostrophe to indicate a contraction, the apostrophe should always mark the spot where the characters have been omitted. For example, “cannot,” becomes “can’t” with the apostrophe marking the location where the “no” has been removed.

Rule 3:

Where to place the apostrophe when indicating possessive forms of singular and plural nouns is another common misunderstanding. Singular words are the easiest to make possessive. For example, if a single cat possesses a mouse, you would say “the cat’s mouse.” The apostrophe follows the last letter in the noun, and the apostrophe is then followed by an “s.” This format works for any singular word, including what we call sibilant words that end in an s, sh, ch, z, or x. So, “the fox’s coat,” “the boss’s desk,” and “the quiz’s answers” are all correct.


Combination plural and possessive forms are slightly more complex. To use the cat example again, if you have two cats, and they share a bowl, this would be “the cats’ bowl.” The “s” indicates the multiple cats, and the apostrophe on the outside of the “s” indicates possession of the object by the multiple cats.

The sibilant form of this rule is even more complex. To make a sibilant word plural and possessive, add “es,” rather than just “s,” and then add the apostrophe at the end. For example, if there are three foxes, and they have found a den, you would say “the foxes’ den.”

Rule 5:

Pronouns such as “yours,” “theirs,” “his,” “hers,” and “ours” do not require apostrophes in any situation. They’re already possessive by their definitions.


Remember, proper punctuation can be tricky, so keep these rules close at hand when addressing your invites or writing thank you notes. Your friends and family will never know you used a cheat sheet and eventually apostrophe usage will become second nature.


The Economist’s Style Guide – Apostrophes

Bureau of Justice Statistics Style Guide – page 16: Punctuation, Apostrophes and Possessives

Tags: , , ,
Category: Etiquette, General Information
Bookmark the permalink

One Response to

  1. Pingback: Apostrophe Etiquette Cheat Sheet « Fast Aperture

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *