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English Punctuation Mark: The 'Apostrophe'

Updated: Apr 26

closeup of computer keyboard showing apostrophe key

Introduction - Learn this English Punctuation Mark

Yes, this article is all about the comma-like punctuation mark. You will see it placed between letters in a word.

Or used in other ways - as I will explain.

When I taught English in China, my students told me their teachers never taught them the name of it.

I don’t know why!

So, I taught them.

No more would they spell a word like this:

“J-O-H-N (then drawing an imaginary thing in the air) S”.

So, what is this punctuation mark?

It’s an apostrophe of course, and I’ve used a few already.

It's pronounced “a/uh+pos+trof+ee” or even: /əˈpɒstrəfi/.

The plural (apostrophes) is pronounced /əˈpɒstrəfiz/

I’ve seen some writers use this: it,s

It could have been a typo but it’s clear that it's wrong!

They've used a comma instead.

It's an easy mistake to make because the apostrophe mark is exactly the same as the comma and they both appear in the centre of the keyboard key.

And many sign-writers use them incorrectly too.

For example, someone with many books to sell will write:

BOOK’s FOR SALE, instead of using the plural of book: books.

When will they ever learn?

Here are a few more:

“What’s that noise?

It’s only the dog drinking its water!”

“Isn’t that the cat’s water bowl?”

Note the difference there.

Remember this to help you know the difference:

"It's 'its' not 'it's'."

So then, what’s an apostrophe for and what does it mean?

Three ways to use apostrophes

There are three ways to use apostrophes. I have already pointed them out above.

1 To show that a letter or letters are missing


It’s omits the word ‘is’. It is wrong = It’s wrong.

Don’t omits the word 'not'. Do not = don’t.

2 To mean to belong to; that is, to form possessive nouns.


The dog that belongs to John is John’s dog.

Italy’s capital is Rome.

The student’s book is in her bag.

The students’ books are in their bags.

The Rule:

If the noun is singular (student) the apostrophe is before the S.

And if the noun is plural (students) it is “S - apostrophe”.


But what about Thomas? Or James?

And what about (singular) hippopotamus? (plural: hippopotamuse's / hippopotamuses') or hippopotami's as the correct plural.

Nouns or names that end with an 'S' simply take the apostrophe at the end. 

So, it would be: Thomas’ book.

But, when we say it, we say “Thomas’s book” which is why some people say that both are correct.

3 To show the plurals of letters, numbers, and symbols.


How many A’s are there in this sentence?

Tom achieved seven 6’s in his semester results.

There are two 😉’s in his facebook comment.

Other uses of the apostrophe

What about the apostrophe when it’s not used as an apostrophe?

As a single quotation mark

The apostrophe also acts as a single quotation mark.

A single quotation mark is an inverted/upside down comma.

For example:

This is the ‘right’ way to do it.

Here, ‘right’ is in single quotation marks because there may be another ‘right’ way to do something. We use it here to show that ‘something’ is in doubt.

As double quotation marks

Double quotation marks are also called 'double inverted commas'.


“Come here, right now!” the teacher shouted.

The double inverted quotation marks show the spoken words in the sentence.

For direct quotes in essays

In academic essays, use double inverted commas (double quotation marks) for direct quotes.

Use them when you quote an author’s exact words.

For example:

Smith (1999:65) states that “it is impossible to do it like that” and goes on to explain how he would do it.

You may have seen people saying something like this: (and here I am writing direct speech.)

“He says he’s a "big" boy now, but he’s only four years old!”

– and the speaker will waggle two fingers on each hand to show the quotation marks. The speaker is quoting the four-year old boy's exact word: 'big'.

Or a speaker will quote someone and after saying the quote, will say “quote, unquote”.

This indicates that he/she has finished quoting the person.


"She said that she was, quote, tired of all the work she has to do, unquote."

Ah! The difficulties associated with speaking written punctuation! Or writing spoken punctuation!

And the ways in which we overcome them!

Your turn

Correct these sentences with the correct placement of apostrophes.

  • Boris time as prime minister of the UK came to an end.

  • Its a shame that it turned out that way.

  • The cow and it's calf ate together in the field.

  • 'Come quick!' Jane yelled to the others.

  • You get "real" practice with My "simply better" Methods.


  • They arent ready to go yet

  • There are three 9s in 1999.


So, there you have it.

Another tip for improving your English using this important English punctuation mark.

Please be sure to use the apostrophe in the way it's intended.

Further Reading

And if you want to learn about other punctuation marks, I have written other articles here.

© Apex English Tutoring Dec 2020 - Updated January 2024

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About Me

Hello and welcome!

My name is Michael Finemore and I am the owner-operator of Apex English Tutoring.

As an experienced English Teacher, I'm passionate about helping people turn their 'poor' English into great English, with easy and effective ways to practice.

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