Apostrophe (‘)

Among the punctuation marks in English, the apostrophe (‘) enjoys a little attention from examiners. It can be described as a superscript comma. It is basically known for indicating possession/belongingness. Moreover, it has other functions. Hence, this lesson looks at the functions of the apostrophe (‘) and where it should not be used.


Basically, the apostrophe helps to indicate that a noun possesses something. It comes before or after an ‘s’. There are a few rules guiding this.

  • When a singular noun possesses a thing, the apostrophe comes before the suffix ‘-s’.

The man’s children, the country’s players, a bird’s tail etc

  • To show possession with a regular plural noun (plural formed by adding -s e.g. schools. boys, teachers, ministers etc), the apostrophe comes after the -s

The ministers’ cars, governors’ wives,

  • To show possession with irregular plural nouns (plural form without -s inflections), add -s with an apostrophe coming before it

The women’s meeting, children’s boxes,

  • When a noun ends with letter s, show its possession by adding an apostrophe after the s

Thomas’ father, Precious’ books, Charles’ work etc.

There are cases where you see or hear expressions like:

James’s situation, Francis’s wristwatch. From research, such expressions are optional and they are based on regional varieties. It is also believed that examiners steer clear such grey areas.

  • When two or more nouns own something and their names will be mentioned, use apostrophe on the last name:

Kunle, Wakama and Emeka’s teacher, Femi and Ademola’s write-up,

  • When a family has something, article ‘the’ precedes the family name and the apostrophe comes after the ‘-s’

The Olasunkanmis’ copy, the Adebayos’ compound

  • Possession in reference to time is written thus:

A week’s time, two weeks’ time, an hours’ time, five hours’ time

  • When another noun possesses a noun that has a possession, express it thus:

Audu’s father’s house, Sandra’s doll’s leg


The Apostrophe, apart from showing possession, also helps indicate contracted words. Such should not be mistaken for possession.

For instance, in ‘Josh’s my friend’, Josh and is are contracted. The uncontracted form is ‘Josh is my friend.’

Contraction is common with pronouns and auxiliary verbs.

  • He’s = he is, he was or he has
  • She’d = he had, he would or he should
  • It’ll = it will
  • It’s = it is
  • Didn’t = did not
  • I’m = I am
  • We’re = we were or we are
  • There’s = there is, there was or there has
  • They’re = they are or they were

Omission of letter/s

When a letter or letters are understandably omitted or when a figure or figures are omitted, the apostrophe is used to indicate that there is an omission.

In the example, Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare, the example before Tunde show that some letters before letter T are omitted. The letters could be Ola, Omo or Baba. Other Examples:

Pastor ‘Poju Oyemade

Lekki ‘98

The ’67 civil war


The apostrophe is used to indicate the multiplicity of a word, figure or letters by coming in before the -s

The headgirl made nine A’s.

We’re asked to write out sixteen C’s and seven Z’s.

The pupils were asked to repeat all the b’s in their notes.


You don’t use apostrophe with predicative possessive pronouns: yours, theirs, his, hers, its and ours.

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