The world is full of apostrophes. You’re probably already confident about how to use them. But if you aren’t (or some cases trip you up), here’s a recap:

To show belonging

When something belongs to one person or thing:

  • Claudia’s desk is next to Suzanne’s.

When something belongs to more than one person or thing and the word ends in ‘s’:

  • Miriam was happy with her teachers’ feedback (the feedback of the teachers).

It’s not wrong to use s’s, as in ‘That’s Jude Collins’s pen’. But ‘That’s Jude Collins’ pen’ looks neater so we prefer the single ‘s’. Whatever you do, make sure you’re consistent.

When it’s plural and doesn’t end in ‘s’:

  • The women’s shoes are on the first floor on the left (the shoes for women).
  • We don’t interrupt people’s holidays with work stuff (the holidays of a group of people).

When there’s time involved

  • one week’s notice
  • three years’ work
  • 30 days’ credit.

Notice that ‘one week’ is singular, which is why the apostrophe goes before the ‘s’. But ‘three years’ and ‘30 days’ are plural, so the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’.

In contractions:

When you use an apostrophe in a contraction it shows that a letter (or letters) is missing. So:

  • they’re is short for ‘they are’
  • there’s means ‘there is’
  • who’s means ‘who is’ or ‘who has’
  • you’re is short for ‘you are’ * it’s is short for ‘it is’ or 'it has'.

Remember: the only time ‘it’s’ needs an apostrophe is when you mean ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. So you’d say ‘It’s Lisa’s turn to make the tea’ and ‘It’s been forever since I had a good cup of tea’. But: ‘The modem’s lost its connection again’.

Even though you’d think the possessive form of ‘its’ (eg ‘the air conditioning unit has a mind of its own’) would need an apostrophe, it doesn’t. If you find it hard to remember, think of ‘ours’ (which is never ‘our’s’).

Not contractions (as they don’t have apostrophes in them) but worth mentioning are:

  • their means ‘belonging to them’
  • whose means ‘of whom’
  • your means ‘belonging to you’.

Bonus question:

How do I make something that ends in ‘s’ both plural and possessive? Like if there are two people called James, and they share an opinion?

Honestly, just rephrase the sentence. Whatever you do, someone will think it’s wrong.