apostrophe is a small punctuation character, appearing as a small line
among the tops of characters. It has its well-defined use in written English,
yet it’s one of those things even fluent writers seem to get wrong at times.
This page attempts to teach you where and how to use apostrophes, and when to refrain. Naturally, there will always be disagreements and exceptions to rules, but this page tries to stay simple and neutral.
This page also limits itself to how apostrophes are used in the English language.
When to Use an Apostrophe
Apostrophes are used to indicate two things; possession and omission.
In English, possession is indicated using an apostrophe followed by an S. The latter is sometimes skipped, but the apostrophe should always be present.
Sometimes characters are left out of a word, or set of words, often mimicking spoken language. Such omission is often indicated with an apostrophe. Some common examples are:
- Short for
See the pattern? (Hint: The apostrophe
represents the omitted characters.)
When not to Use an Apostrophe
Since the rules for when apostrophes should be used are rather simple, it should be as simple to avoid using apostrophes in all other situations. Yet there are a few common mistakes that people keep making:
Plural forms in English should not have an apostrophe.
Confusion may arise when dealing with possessive plurals. But it’s the possessive part that calls for the apostrophe, as usual.
An exception is when making plural forms of letters and numbers, where some styles use an apostrophe to avoid ambiguity. E.g. 1’s, a’s, B’s, etc.
Possessive pronouns should never have an apostrophe, even when they end in an S. They are possessive enough as they are.
So it’s: yours, his, hers, its, ours and theirs.
Oh 💩, here comes another S!
Some people, who are perhaps unsure about the rules of apostrophes, seem to
think that adding one
won’t hurt. They also seem to think that apostrophes
have a special relationship with the letter S. So they will put an apostrophe
before virtually every S. This phenomenon is called
A superfluous apostrophe is as bad as a missing one. It hinders readability and conveys ignorance. Learn where the apostrophes go. It’s not that hard, as you can see above.
Which Character to Use
There are a number of characters that can be used as an apostrophe. Knowing which one to use can seem tricky, but let’s try to work it out.
The first choice to make is whether to use
straight apostrophes, also known as typewriter apostrophes. This is
a matter of style and taste only. Curly should be the default, but
if you’re using straight quotes ('' and "" as opposed to ‘’ and “”) you should
use straight apostrophes to match.
In informal settings, using typewriter apostrophes is fine, and they’re often easier to type. So unless you’re writing something official, don’t worry too much about it.
When using curly apostrophes there are, unfortunately, two different characters from which to choose: ’ (U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK) or ʼ (U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE). They may, and should, appear equal to the naked eye; the difference is quite technical.
There are arguments for and against the use of both versions, and we won’t go into that debate here. Pick one and stick to it.
What Not to Use
Then there are a lot of characters that shouldn’t be used for apostrophes. Of course, all characters except the ones listed above are out of the question, but some in particular seem to be in frequent misuse.
A common mistake is to use an accent (acute (´) or grave (`)) where one should use an apostrophe. This is wrong! And there’s no excuse for doing so.
Things That Look Like Apostrophes
The following characters look like apostrophes, but they are different characters with different meanings:
|ʻ||U+02BB||MODIFIER LETTER TURNED COMMA|
|Ꞌ||U+A78B||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER SALTILLO|
|ꞌ||U+A78C||LATIN SMALL LETTER SALTILLO|
Don’t use them as apostrophes.
Which key do I press?
How to type an apostrophe will depend on both software and hardware.
The method of inserting a curly apostrophe depends on the operating system:
- Apple OS X
- ⌥ Option + ⇧ Shift + ]
It varies, but usually one of:
- Ctrl + ⇧ Shift + U, 2 0 1 9
- AltGr + ⇧ Shift + N
- AltGr + ⇧ Shift + B
- Compose + ' + >
- Microsoft Windows
- Alt + 0 1 4 6
Typing a typewriter apostrophe is usually easier: It’s often a single key-press. The location of the key depends on the keyboard layout used, but it tends to appear near the ↵ Enter key.
In some cases, typing a typewriter apostrophe will in fact insert the curly
variant. (This is commonly referred to as
If you find that an apostrophe does not immediately appear, but requires an other key-press, watch out! You may be on your way to erroneously use an accent (see Accents above).
- If you’re writing for an organisation, a company, etc. and they have a style guide; follow it.
- If you’re using straight quotes (' and "); use the typewriter apostrophe: ' (U+0027 APOSTROPHE).
- If none of the above apply; use one of the
curlyapostrophes: ’ (U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK) or ʼ (U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE). Which one? You choose!
Whichever you end up using, be consistent! Don’t mix within the same document, website, email, etc.
- Apostrophe — Wikipedia
- Apostrophes — Butterick’s Practical Typography
- Fucking Apostrophes — Simon Griffin