Properly Punctuated: Apostrophe, ‘

Posted March 11, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Properly Punctuated, Self-Editing, Writing

Apostrophes contract, possess, or pluralize. And no, pluralize does NOT mean you add “apostrophe ess” willy-nilly!

Contracting Apostrophes

By indicating a missing letter (or letters) with an apostrophe, the writer may create a more natural way of “speaking”, representing non-standard forms of a word, i.e., gi’ replaces give, a’ replaces all and is particularly used when recreating colloquial dialog or in poetry. The most common “letter-replacement” method with which we are most aware is the contraction, i.e., “I had not…” becomes “I hadn’t…”

Pluralizing Apostrophes

Possession is most commonly confused as being a form of pluralization. No. NO. Using an apostrophe to form a plural is EXTREMELY rare. When the apostrophe is used to form a plural, it should be because one needs to be very clear about making the word, number, or phrase a plural. Use CAUTION and pay attention to the style guide you’re using.

Possessive Apostrophes

Using an apostrophe to make something possessive is simple enough: one” adds apostrophe ess”. Unless… Yes, it can get complicated, and again, you should refer to your style guide to see what their preference is OR as Chicago puts it: choose the method you like and be consistent in using it.

Properly Punctuated is…

…the proper use of quotation marks, commas, semicolons, colons, ellipsis, etc., including how to properly mark dialog, ahem. As Properly Punctuated is in no way complete, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone…

If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page — and consider sharing this Properly Punctuated tidbit with friends by tweeting it.

Apostrophe, ‘
Credit to: Enchanted;; Wikipedia
Punctuation: ‘
General Rule
Apostrophes take the place of missing letters or numbers, indicate possession, and create plural forms.


Definition: Technically, a contraction is known as a clitic, a cross between an affix and a word. They are phonologically so short they can’t be pronounced alone and must be joined to another word.

Using contractions sets a more informal tone to the story, post, article, etc., and your expected audience should be taken into account.

In the reverse, eliminating contractions sets a more formal tone and is best used in formal papers, reports, term papers, or as a way to set a speaker in a novel apart from other characters. Not using contractions can make a character seem more formal, prissy, and/or snobbish.

Examples of Omission / Contractions / Colloquialisms
afraid [Colloquial] ‘fraid
am not, are not, has not, have not, is not [Colloquial] ain’t
another [Colloquial] ‘nother
are not aren’t
because [Colloquial] ’cause
cannot can’t
cannot have [Colloquial] can’t’ve
cat-of-nine-tails cat’o-nine-tails
could have could’ve
could not couldn’t
could not have [Colloquial] couldn’t’ve
did not didn’t
do not don’t
does not doesn’t
even [Poetic/literary] e’en
forecastle fo’c’s’le
had not hadn’t
has not hasn’t
have not haven’t
Hallow even, Halloween Hallowe’en
he had, he would he’d
he is, he was he’s
he will, he shall he’ll
he will have, he shall have [Colloquial] he’ll’ve
he would have [Colloquial] he’d’ve
how had how’d
how has, how is, how was how’s
how will how’ll
how would how’d
I am I’m
I had, I would I’d
I would have [Colloquial] I’d’ve
I have I’ve
I will, I shall I’ll
I will have, I shall have [Colloquial] I’ll’ve
is not isn’t
it is it’s
[Archaic] ’tis
[Colloquial] ‘s
it is not it isn’t
it’s not
[Archaic] ’tisn’t
it was [Archaic] ’twas
it had, it would it’d
let us let’s
might have might’ve
might not mightn’t
must not mustn’t
must not have [Colloquial] mustn’t’ve
need not needn’t
never-do-well ne’er-do-well
of the clock o’clock
old ol’
over Archaic, Poetic, Literary: o’er
shall not shan’t
she is, she was she’s
she had, she would she’d
she will, she shall she’ll
she would have [Colloquial] she’d’ve
should have should’ve
[Colloquial] should’a
should not have [Colloquial] shouldn’t’ve
should not shouldn’t
so as so’s
suppose ‘spose
that is, that was that’s
that will that’ll
there had, there would there’d
there is, there was there’s
they are, they were they’re
they had, they would they’d
they have they’ve
they will, they shall they’ll
was not wasn’t
we are, we were we’re
we had, we would we’d
we have we’ve
we will have [Colloquial] we’ll’ve
were not weren’t
what will, what shall what’ll
what are, what were what’re
what is, what has what’s
what have what’ve
when has, when is when’s
where have where’ve
where is, where has where’s
where would where’d
who are who’re
who had, who would who’d
who have who’ve
who is who’s
who will, who shall who’ll
who will have, who shall have [Colloquial] who’ll’ve
why are, why were why’re
why has why’s
why would why’d
why is, why has why’s
why will why’ll
why would why’d
will-of-the-wisp will’o-the-wisp
will have will’ve
will not won’t
would not wouldn’t
would not have [Colloquial] wouldn’t’ve
you all y’all
you all would have [Colloquial] y’all’d’ve
you are you’re
you had, you would you’d
you have you’ve
you will, you shall you’ll
you will have [Colloquial] you’ll’ve
you would have [Colloquial] you’d’ve
Plural Forms
Definition: Form the plural of letters, numbers, signs, and of words referred to as words, i.e., words that are not nouns, and hyphenated phrases.
UPPER- and lowercase Letters

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Apostrophe NO Apostrophe
Interior Periods Rule: With interior periods. Rule: Without interior periods.

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ed., eds.
vol., vols.
Rule: Use an apostrophe to indicate missing numbers. Rule: Referring to a time period is considered a plural. Do not use an ‘s when pluralizing decades or years.

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Apostrophe NO Apostrophe
the ’60s, ’80s, etc.

[Informal] 1997 = ’97
1960s, 1880s, 900s, etc.
Letter, Individual
lowercase letter

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Apostrophe NO Apostrophe
Remember to dot all the is and cross all the ts in that letter.
Remember to dot all the is and cross all the ts in that letter.
UPPERcase Letter

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We need to connect the Xs and Ys.
Arabic Numerals Rule: When pluralizing Arabic numerals to be used as nouns.

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Apostrophe NO Apostrophe
2s and 3s, or ands.
2s and 3s.
Spelled Out Numerals

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She was in her twenties or thirties back then.

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Apostrophe NO Apostrophe
the @s
the @s
Non-Noun Word,
Hyphenated Phrase
Rule: Pluralizing a word or hyphenated phrase that is not a noun.

Chicago slips between adding an s or es to make it plural or using an apostrophe. Maybe is definitely apostrophe-essed.

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Apostrophe NO Apostrophe
How many ands are in the second paragraph?
How many and’s are in the second paragraph?

There are too many maybes in this plan.

If one uses too many maybes, one should consider some yess and nos as well.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Keep in mind the dos and don’ts for a tea party.

Yesses and noes are acceptable if maybe isn’t present.

Proper Names,
Capitalized Nouns

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Apostrophe NO Apostrophe
We play bingo on Thursdays.

The Smiths are putting on a spread next week.

The Americans are playing the Australians next week.

Have you heard about the Thomases?

The Smiths and Joneses are going bankrupt.

Rule: Ownership or possession is usually shown by the use of an apostrophe s (‘s). For a more in-depth look, explore Possessive.
arm’s length Literally, the length of the arm, so that length belongs to the arm

As an idiom, it means to hold people away

Smith’s pail the pail belongs to a person whose last name is Smith
Joneses’ house the house belongs to a group of people named Jones
steal someone’s thunder take credit for someone else’s idea or work
cat’s in the cradle Literally, it’s a contraction for cat is

As an idiom, it means someone is giving the millionth excuse

Surnames of Non-English Origin
O’Bannion The O’ is a replacement for Ó
L’Hereux L’ means the with the apostrophe used to indicate a missing e (le) or a (la).
D’Angelo an Italian name with the D’ indicating from or of.
M’Gregor Evolved from a backwards apostrophe that became a superscript C with the current apostrophe replacing the missing letter
General Rule: When converting foreign words into English, apostrophes may be used to substitute for missing letters, to indicate a particular type of pronunciation or diacritic, or evidence of an elision (a missing sound or syllable).
‘s morgens
coup d’état
maître d’hôtel
på sta’n

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