The poor apostrophe suffers from a lot of abuse! Also known as the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’, it can often be seen being used incorrectly for plurals such as:
Apple’s 65p per kilo
Lemon’s 60p each
That doesn’t mean that some greengrocers are the only ones who do this! If you look around, apostrophe abuse is very common so it’s time to get it straightened out.
Apostrophes are used for two reasons: to show possession and omission.
The apostrophe of possession
This is to show belonging:
With a single owner, apostrophe ‘s’ is added to the owner
The cat’s tail (the tail belonging to the cat)
The class’s teacher (the teacher of the class)
James’s book (the book belonging to James. This can also be shown as James’ book.)
If the word for more than one owner doesn’t end in ‘s’, you still add apostrophe ‘s’ to the owner
The children’s toys
The men’s championship
When there is more than one owner and the word ends in ‘s’, add the apostrophe after the ‘s’
The cats’ tails (the tails of more than one cat)
The boys’ book (more than one boy but only one book)
What about ‘The boys rugby boots’? Without the apostrophe, it’s impossible to tell how many boys we are talking about.
The boy’s rugby boots (one boy)
The boys’ rugby boots (more than one boy)
The apostrophe of omission
This shows when letters are missing because words have been joined together (these are also known as contractions).
I can’t go (cannot go)
She’s very tired (She is)
I’ve got lots of homework (I have)
Do you have any requests for spelling, punctuation and grammar gremlins that you would like to see banished? If so, please email your requests to
firstname.lastname@example.org with RLS Literacy in the subject header.
Mrs N Bone - Head of English