"Apos" redirects here. For the Romanian village of Apoș, see Bârghiș.
Typewriter apostrophe
apostrophe   '
brackets [ ]  ( )  { }  ⟨ ⟩
colon :
comma ,  ،  
dash ‒  –  —  ―
ellipsis   ...  . . .
exclamation mark  !
full stop, period .
guillemets ‹ ›  « »
hyphen-minus -
question mark  ?
quotation marks ‘ ’  “ ”  ' '  " "
semicolon ;
slash, stroke, solidus /  
Word dividers
interpunct ·
General typography
ampersand &
asterisk *
at sign @
backslash \
caret ^
dagger † ‡
degree °
ditto mark
inverted exclamation mark ¡
inverted question mark ¿
number sign, pound, hash, octothorpe #
numero sign
obelus ÷
multiplication sign ×
ordinal indicator º ª
percent, per mil  % ‰
plus and minus + −
equals sign =
basis point
section sign §
tilde ~
underscore, understrike _
vertical bar, pipe, broken bar |    ¦
Intellectual property
copyright ©
sound-recording copyright
registered trademark ®
service mark
currency sign ¤

฿¢$֏ƒ£ ¥

Uncommon typography
index, fist
irony punctuation
In other scripts

The apostrophe ( or ' ) character is a punctuation mark, and sometimes a diacritical mark, in languages that use the Latin alphabet and some other alphabets. In English it is used for several purposes: [1]

  • The marking of the omission of one or more letters (as in the contraction of do not to don't).
  • The marking of possessive case (as in the eagle's feathers, or in one month's time).
  • The marking of plurals of individual characters (e.g. p's and q's, three a's, four i's, and two u's, Oakland A's).

Apostrophe comes ultimately from Greek ἡ ἀπόστροφος [προσῳδία] (hē apóstrophos [prosōidía], "[the accent of] 'turning away', or elision"), through Latin and French. [2] [3]

The apostrophe looks the same as a closing single quotation mark, although they have different meanings. The apostrophe also looks similar to, but is not the same as, the prime symbol ( ′ ), which is used to indicate measurement in feet or arcminutes, as well as for various mathematical purposes, and the ʻokinaʻ ), which represents a glottal stop in Polynesian languages. Such incorrect substitutes as ´ (acute) and ` (grave) are common in unprofessional texts, where an ambiguous treatment of the apostrophe in digital typesetting (as explained below) is a major factor of this confusion.

English language usage

Historical development

The apostrophe was first used by Pietro Bembo in his edition of De Aetna (1496). [4] It was introduced into English in the 16th century in imitation of French practice. [5]

French practice

Introduced by Geoffroy Tory (1529), [6] the apostrophe was used in place of a vowel letter to indicate elision (as in l’heure in place of la heure). It was frequently used in place of a final e (which was still pronounced at the time) when it was elided before a vowel, as in un’ heure. Modern French orthography has restored the spelling une heure. [7]

Early English practice

From the 16th century, following French practice, the apostrophe was used when a vowel letter was omitted either because of incidental elision (I’m for I am) or because the letter no longer represented a sound (lov’d for loved). English spelling retained many inflections that were not pronounced as syllables, notably verb endings (-est, -eth, -es, -ed) and the noun ending -es, which marked either plurals or possessives (also known as genitives; see Possessive apostrophe, below). So apostrophe followed by s was often used to mark a plural, especially when the noun was a loan word (and especially a word ending in a, as in the two comma’s). [5]


The use of elision has continued to the present day, but significant changes have been made to the possessive and plural uses. By the 18th century, apostrophe + s was regularly used for all possessive singular forms, even when the letter e was not omitted (as in the gate’s height). This was regarded as representing the Old English genitive singular inflection -es. The plural use was greatly reduced, but a need was felt to mark possessive plural. The solution was to use an apostrophe after the plural s (as in girls’ dresses). However, this was not universally accepted until the mid-19th century. [5]

Possessive apostrophe

The apostrophe is used to indicate possession. This convention distinguishes possessive singular forms (Bernadette’s, flower’s, glass’s, one’s) from simple plural forms (Bernadettes, flowers, glasses, ones), and both of those from possessive plural forms (Bernadettes’, flowers’, glasses’, ones’). For singulars, the modern possessive or genitive inflection is a survival from certain genitive inflections in Old English, and the apostrophe originally marked the loss of the old e (for example, lambes became lamb’s).

General principles for the possessive apostrophe

Summary of rules for most situations
  • Possessive personal pronouns, serving as either noun-equivalents or adjective-equivalents, do not use an apostrophe, even when they end in s. The complete list of those ending in the letter s or the corresponding sound /s/ or /z/ but not taking an apostrophe is ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs, and whose.
  • Other pronouns, singular nouns not ending in s, and plural nouns not ending in s all take ’s in the possessive: e.g., someone’s, a cat’s toys, women’s.
  • Plural nouns already ending in s take only an apostrophe after the pre-existing s when the possessive is formed: e.g., three cats' toys.
Basic rule (singular nouns)

For most singular nouns the ending 's is added; e.g., the cat’s whiskers.

  • If a singular noun ends with an s-sound (spelled with -s, -se, for example), practice varies as to whether to add 's or the apostrophe alone. A widely accepted practice is to follow whichever spoken form is judged better: the boss’s shoes, Mrs Jones’ hat (or Mrs Jones’s hat, if that spoken form is preferred). In many cases, both spoken and written forms differ between writers. (See details below.)
  • Acronyms and initialisms used as nouns (CD, DVD, NATO, RADAR, etc.) follow the same rules as singular nouns: e.g., "the TV's picture quality".

Basic rule (plural nouns)

When the noun is a normal plural, with an added s, no extra s is added in the possessive; so the neighbours' garden (where there is more than one neighbour) is correct rather than the neighbours's garden.

  • If the plural is not one that is formed by adding s, an s is added for the possessive, after the apostrophe: children’s hats, women’s hairdresser, some people’s eyes (but compare some peoples’ recent emergence into nationhood, where peoples is meant as the plural of the singular people). These principles are universally accepted.
  • A few English nouns have plurals that are not spelled with a final s but nevertheless end in an /s/ or a /z/ sound: mice (plural of mouse; also in compounds like dormouse, titmouse), dice (when used as the plural of die), pence (a plural of penny, with compounds like sixpence that now tend to be taken as singulars). In the absence of specific exceptional treatment in style guides, the possessives of these plurals are formed by adding an apostrophe and an s in the standard way: seven titmice’s tails were found, the dice’s last fall was a seven, his few pence’s value was not enough to buy bread. These would often be rephrased, where possible: the last fall of the dice was a seven. [a]
Basic rule (compound nouns)

Compound nouns have their singular possessives formed with an apostrophe and an added s, in accordance with the rules given above: the Attorney-General’s husband; the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports's prerogative; this Minister for Justice’s intervention; her father-in-law’s new wife.

  • In such examples, the plurals are formed with an s that does not occur at the end: e.g., attorneys-general. A problem therefore arises with the possessive plurals of these compounds. Sources that rule on the matter appear to favour the following forms, in which there is both an s added to form the plural, and a separate s added for the possessive: the attorneys-general’s husbands; successive Ministers for Justice’s interventions; their fathers-in-law’s new wives. [8] Because these constructions stretch the resources of punctuation beyond comfort, in practice they are normally reworded: interventions by successive Ministers for Justice. [9] [10]
Joint or separate possession

For two nouns (or noun phrases) joined by and, there are several ways of expressing possession, including:

1. marking of the last noun (e.g. "Jack and Jill's children")
2. marking of both nouns (e.g. "Jack's and Jill's children"). [11]

Some grammars make no distinction in meaning between the two forms. [b] Some publishers' style guides, however, make a distinction, assigning the "segregatory" (or "distributive") meaning to the form "John's and Mary's" and the "combinatorial" (or "joint") meaning to the form "John and Mary's". [c] A third alternative is a construction of the form "Jack's children and Jill's", which is always distributive, i.e. it designates the combined set of Jack's children and Jill's children. [11]

When a coordinate possessive construction has two personal pronouns, the normal possessive inflection is used, and there is no apostrophe (e.g. "his and her children"). The issue of the use of the apostrophe arises when the coordinate construction includes a noun (phrase) and a pronoun. In this case, the inflection of only the last item may sometimes be, at least marginally, acceptable ("you and your spouse's bank account"). [11] [12] The inflection of both is normally preferred (e.g. Jack's and your dogs), but there is a tendency to avoid this construction, too, in favour of a construction that does not use a coordinate possessive (e.g. by using "Jack's letters and yours"). [11] Where a construction like "Jack's and your dogs" is used, the interpretation is usually "segregatory" (i.e. not joint possession). [12]

With other punctuation; compounds with pronouns

If the word or compound includes, or even ends with, a punctuation mark, an apostrophe and an s are still added in the usual way: " Westward Ho!’s railway station"; "Awaye!’s Paulette Whitten recorded Bob Wilson’s story"; [16] Washington, D.C.’s museums, [17] assuming that the prevailing style requires full stops in D.C.

  • If the word or compound already includes a possessive apostrophe, a double possessive results: Tom’s sisters’ careers; the head of marketing’s husband’s preference; the master of foxhounds’ best dog’s death. Many style guides, while allowing that these constructions are possible, advise rephrasing: the head of marketing’s husband prefers that .... If an original apostrophe, or apostrophe with s, occurs at the end, it is left by itself to do double duty: Our employees are better paid than McDonald’s employees; Standard & Poor’s indices are widely used: the fixed forms of McDonald’s and Standard & Poor’s already include possessive apostrophes. For similar cases involving geographical names, see below.
  • Similarly, the possessives of all phrases whose wording is fixed are formed in the same way:
For complications with foreign phrases and titles, see below.
Time, money, and similar

An apostrophe is used in time and money references, among others, in constructions such as one hour’s respite, two weeks’ holiday, a dollar’s worth, five pounds’ worth, one mile’s drive from here. This is like an ordinary possessive use. For example, one hour’s respite means a respite of one hour (exactly as the cat’s whiskers means the whiskers of the cat). Exceptions are accounted for in the same way: three months pregnant (in modern usage, one says neither pregnant of three months, nor one month(’)s pregnant).

Possessive pronouns and adjectives

No apostrophe is used in the following possessive pronouns and adjectives: yours, his, hers, ours, its, theirs, and whose.

The possessive of it was originally it’s, and many people continue to write it this way, though the apostrophe was dropped in the early 1800s and authorities are now unanimous that it’s can be only a contraction of it is or it has. [20] [21] For example, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson used it’s as a possessive in his instructions dated 20 June 1803 to Lewis for his preparations for his great expedition. [22]

All other possessive pronouns ending in s do take an apostrophe: one’s; everyone’s; somebody’s, nobody else’s, etc. With plural forms, the apostrophe follows the s, as with nouns: the others’ husbands (but compare They all looked at each other’s husbands, in which both each and other are singular).

Importance for disambiguation

Each of these four phrases (listed in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct) has a distinct meaning:

  • My sister’s friend’s investments (the investments belonging to a friend of my sister)
  • My sister’s friends’ investments (the investments belonging to several friends of my sister)
  • My sisters’ friend’s investments (the investments belonging to a friend of several of my sisters)
  • My sisters’ friends’ investments (the investments belonging to several friends of several of my sisters)

Kingsley Amis, on being challenged to produce a sentence whose meaning depended on a possessive apostrophe, came up with:

  • Those things over there are my husband’s. (Those things over there belong to my husband.)
  • Those things over there are my husbands’. (Those things over there belong to several husbands of mine.)
  • Those things over there are my husbands. (I'm married to those men over there.) [23]

Singular nouns ending with an "s" or "z" sound

This subsection deals with singular nouns pronounced with a sibilant sound at the end: /s/ or /z/. The spelling of these ends with -s, -se, -z, -ze, -ce, -x, or -xe.

Many respected authorities recommend that practically all singular nouns, including those ending with a sibilant sound, have possessive forms with an extra s after the apostrophe so that the spelling reflects the underlying pronunciation. Examples include Oxford University Press, the Modern Language Association, the BBC and The Economist. [24] Such authorities demand possessive singulars like these: Senator Jones’s umbrella; Tony Adams’s friend. Rules that modify or extend the standard principle have included the following:

  • If the singular possessive is difficult or awkward to pronounce with an added sibilant, do not add an extra s; these exceptions are supported by The Guardian, [25] Yahoo! Style Guide, [26] and The American Heritage Book of English Usage. [27] Such sources permit possessive singulars like these: Socrates’ later suggestion; or Achilles’ heel if that is how the pronunciation is intended.
  • Classical, biblical, and similar names ending in a sibilant, especially if they are polysyllabic, do not take an added s in the possessive; among sources giving exceptions of this kind are The Times [28] and The Elements of Style, which make general stipulations, and Vanderbilt University, [29] which mentions only Moses and Jesus. As a particular case, Jesus'  is very commonly written instead of Jesus’s – even by people who would otherwise add ’s in, for example, James’s or Chris’s. Jesus’  is referred to as "an accepted liturgical archaism" in Hart’s Rules.

Although less common, some contemporary writers still follow the older practice of omitting the extra s in all cases ending with a sibilant, but usually not when written -x or -xe. [30] Some contemporary authorities such as the Associated Press Stylebook [31] recommend or allow the practice of omitting the extra "s" in all words ending with an "s", but not in words ending with other sibilants ("z" and "x"). [32] The 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style recommended the traditional practice, which included providing for several exceptions to accommodate spoken usage such as the omission of the extra s after a polysyllabic word ending in a sibilant, but the 16th edition no longer recommends omitting the extra "s". [33]

Similar examples of notable names ending in an s that are often given a possessive apostrophe with no additional s include Dickens and Williams. There is often a policy of leaving off the additional s on any such name, but this can prove problematic when specific names are contradictory (for example, St James’ Park in Newcastle [the football ground] and the area of St. James's Park in London). Having said that, there has been ongoing debate around the punctuation of St James' Park (Newcastle) for some time, contrary to St James's Park (London) which is the less contentious version. For more details on practice with geographic names, see the relevant section below.

Some writers like to reflect standard spoken practice in cases like these with sake: for convenience' sake, for goodness’ sake, for appearance' sake, for compromise’ sake, etc. This punctuation is preferred in major style guides. Others prefer to add ’s: for convenience’s sake. [34] Still others prefer to omit the apostrophe when there is an s sound before sake: for morality’s sake, but for convenience sake. [35]

The Supreme Court of the United States is split on whether a possessive singular noun that ends with s should always have an additional s after the apostrophe, sometimes have an additional s after the apostrophe (for instance, based on whether the final sound of the original word is pronounced /s/ or /z/), or never have an additional s after the apostrophe. The informal majority view (5–4, based on past writings of the justices) has favoured the additional s, but a strong minority disagrees. [36]

Nouns ending with silent s, x, or z

The English possessive of French nouns ending in a silent s, x, or z is addressed by various style guided. Certainly a sibilant is pronounced in examples like Descartes’s and Dumas’s; the question addressed here is whether s needs to be added. Similar examples with x or z: Sauce Périgueux’s main ingredient is truffle; His pince-nez’s loss went unnoticed; "Verreaux(’s) eagle, a large, predominantly black eagle, Aquila verreauxi,..." ( OED, entry for "Verreaux", with silent x; see Verreaux’s eagle); in each of these some writers might omit the added s. The same principles and residual uncertainties apply with "naturalised" English words, like Illinois and Arkansas. [37]

For possessive plurals of words ending in silent x, z or s, the few authorities that address the issue at all typically call for an added s and suggest that the apostrophe precede the s: The Loucheux’s homeland is in the Yukon; Compare the two Dumas’s literary achievements. [d] The possessive of a cited French title with a silent plural ending is uncertain: "Trois femmes’s long and complicated publication history", [38] but "Les noces' singular effect was 'exotic primitive'..." (with nearby sibilants -ce- in noces and s- in singular). [39] Compare treatment of other titles, above.

Guides typically seek a principle that will yield uniformity, even for foreign words that fit awkwardly with standard English punctuation.

Possessives in geographic names

Place names in the United States do not use the possessive apostrophe on federal maps and signs. [40] The United States Board on Geographic Names, which has responsibility for formal naming of municipalities and geographic features, has deprecated the use of possessive apostrophes since 1890 so as not to show ownership of the place. [40] [41] Only five names of natural features in the US are officially spelled with a genitive apostrophe: Martha’s Vineyard; Ike’s Point, New Jersey; John E’s Pond, Rhode Island; Carlos Elmer's Joshua View, Arizona; and Clark's Mountain, Oregon. [41] [42]

Australia’s Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping also has a no-apostrophe policy, a practice it says goes back to the 1900s [43] and which is generally followed around the country. [44]

On the other hand, the United Kingdom has Bishop’s Stortford, Bishop’s Castle and King’s Lynn (among many others) but St Albans, St Andrews and St Helens. London Underground’s Piccadilly line has the adjacent stations of Earl’s Court in Earls Court and Barons Court. These names were mainly fixed in form many years before grammatical rules were fully standardised. While Newcastle United play football at a stadium called St James’ Park, and Exeter City at St James Park, London has a St James’s Park (this whole area of London is named after the parish of St James’s Church, Piccadilly [45]). The special circumstances of the latter case may be this: the customary pronunciation of this place name is reflected in the addition of an extra -s; since usage is firmly against a doubling of the final -s without an apostrophe, this place name has an apostrophe. This could be regarded as an example of a double genitive: it refers to the park of the parish of St James.[ citation needed]

Modern usage has been influenced by considerations of technological convenience including the economy of typewriter ribbons and films, and similar computer character "disallowance" which tend to ignore traditional canons of correctness. [46] Practice in the United Kingdom and Canada is not so uniform. [47]

Possessives in names of organizations

Sometimes the apostrophe is omitted in the names of clubs, societies, and other organizations, even though the standard principles seem to require it: Country Women’s Association, but International Aviation Womens Association; [48] Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, [49] but Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union. Usage is variable and inconsistent. Style guides typically advise consulting an official source for the standard form of the name (as one would do if uncertain about other aspects of the spelling of the name); some tend towards greater prescriptiveness, for or against such an apostrophe. [e] As the case of womens shows, it is not possible to analyze these forms simply as non-possessive plurals, since women is the only correct plural form of woman.

Possessives in business names

Sign to Green Craigs housing development
See also: S-form

Where a business name is based on a family name it should in theory take an apostrophe, but many leave it out (contrast Sainsbury’s with Harrods). In recent times there has been an increasing tendency to drop the apostrophe. Names based on a first name are more likely to take an apostrophe, but this is not always the case. Some business names may inadvertently spell a different name if the name with an s at the end is also a name, such as Parson. A small activist group called the Apostrophe Protection Society [50] has campaigned for large retailers such as Harrods, Currys, and Selfridges to reinstate their missing punctuation. A spokesperson for Barclays PLC stated, "It has just disappeared over the years. Barclays is no longer associated with the family name." [51] Further confusion can be caused by businesses whose names look as if they should be pronounced differently without an apostrophe, such as Paulos Circus, and other companies that leave the apostrophe out of their logos but include it in written text, such as Cadwalader’s.

Apostrophe showing omission

An apostrophe is commonly used to indicate omitted characters, normally letters:

  • It is used in contractions, such as can't from cannot, it’s from it is or it has, and I’ll from I will or I shall. [52]
  • It is used in abbreviations, as gov’t for government. It may indicate omitted numbers where the spoken form is also capable of omissions, as ’70s for 1970s representing seventies for nineteen-seventies. In modern usage, apostrophes are generally omitted when letters are removed from the start of a word, particularly for a compound word. For example, it is not common to write ’bus (for omnibus), ’phone (telephone), ’net (Internet). However, if the shortening is unusual, dialectal or archaic, the apostrophe may still be used to mark it (e.g., ’bout for about, ’less for unless, ’twas for it was). Sometimes a misunderstanding of the original form of a word results in an incorrect contraction. A common example: ’til for until, though till is in fact the original form, and until is derived from it.
    • The spelling fo’c’s’le, contracted from the nautical term forecastle, is unusual for having three apostrophes. The spelling bo’s’n’s (from boatswain’s), as in Bo’s’n’s Mate, also has three apostrophes, two showing omission and one possession. Fo’c’s’le may also take a possessive s – as in the fo’c’s’le’s timbers – giving four apostrophes in one word. [53] A word which formerly contained two apostrophes is sha'n't for shall not, examples of which may be found in the older works of P G Wodehouse and "Frank Richards" ( Charles Hamilton), but this has been superseded by shan't.
  • It is sometimes used when the normal form of an inflection seems awkward or unnatural; for example, KO’d rather than KOed (where KO is used as a verb meaning "to knock out"); "a spare pince-nez’d man" (cited in OED, entry for "pince-nez"; pince-nezed is also in citations).
  • An apostrophe’s function as possessive or contractive can depend on the grammatical context:
    • We rehearsed for Friday’s opening night. (We rehearsed for the opening night on Friday.)
    • We rehearsed because Friday’s opening night. (We rehearsed because Friday is opening night. "Friday’s" here is a contraction of "Friday is.")
  • Eye dialects use apostrophes in creating the effect of a non-standard pronunciation.
  • Apostrophes to omit letters in place names are common on British road signs when space does not allow for the full name (e.g. Wolverhampton abbreviated as "W’hampton" and Kidderminster as "K’minster", as shown on this sign).

Use in forming some plurals

The plural of single lowercase letters is usually indicated by adding an apostrophe and an s, as in

"dot the i's and cross the t's" [54] [55]

The apostrophe may also be used for clarity in other cases of single letters or digits, as in

"Find all the number 7's."
"She can't tell her M's from her N's." [55]

An apostrophe is used by some writers to form a plural for abbreviations, initials including acronyms, and symbols, especially where adding just s rather than 's may leave meaning ambiguous or presentation inelegant. Some specific cases:

  • For groups of years, some style guides prefer 1960s to 1960’s [56] and 90s or ’90s to 90’s or ’90's. This use of an apostrophe may be more acceptable in American than in British English. [57]
  • The apostrophe is sometimes used in forming the plural of numbers, for example 1000’s of years. An alternative is to write out the numbers as words. [57]
  • The apostrophe is often used in plurals of symbols, for example "that page has too many &’s and #’s on it". Some style guides state that the apostrophe is unnecessary since there is no ambiguity but that some editors and teachers prefer this usage. [56] The addition of an 's' without an apostrophe may make the text difficult to read. [57]

For abbreviations, acronyms, etc., use of s without an apostrophe is now more common than its use with an apostrophe, but for single lowercase letters, pluralization with -'s is usual. [58] [59] [60]

Use in non-English names

Names that are not strictly native to English sometimes have an apostrophe substituted to represent other characters (see also As a mark of elision, below).

  • Anglicised versions of Irish surnames often contain an apostrophe after an O, for example O’Doole.
  • Some Scottish and Irish surnames use an apostrophe after an M, for example M’Gregor. The apostrophe here may be seen as marking a contraction where the prefix Mc or Mac would normally appear. However, it may also arise from confusion of (turned comma or "6-quote"), which was used as a substitute for superscript c when printing with hand-set metal type. Compare: M’Lean, McLean, M‘Lean. [61]

Use in transliteration

In transliterated foreign words, an apostrophe may be used to separate letters or syllables that otherwise would likely be interpreted incorrectly. For example:

  • in the Arabic word mus'haf, a transliteration of مصحف‎, the syllables are as in mus·haf, not mu·shaf
  • in the Japanese name Shin'ichi, the apostrophe shows that the pronunciation is shi·n·i·chi ( hiragana しんいち), where the letters n () and i () are separate morae, rather than shi·ni·chi (しにち).
  • in the Chinese Pinyin romanization, when two hanzi are combined to form one word, if the resulting Pinyin representation can be mis-interpreted they should be separated by an apostrophe. For example, 先 (xiān) 西安 (xī'ān).

Furthermore, an apostrophe may be used to indicate a glottal stop in transliterations. For example:

  • in the Arabic word Qur'an, a common transliteration of (part of) القرآن‎ al-qur'ān, the apostrophe corresponds to the diacritic Maddah over the 'alif, one of the letters in the Arabic alphabet

Rather than ʿ the apostrophe is sometimes used to indicate a voiced pharyngeal fricative as it sounds and looks like the glottal stop to most English speakers. For example:

  • in the Arabic word Ka'aba for الكعبة‎ al-kaʿbah, the apostrophe corresponds to the Arabic letter ʿayn.

Non-standard English use

Failure to observe standard use of the apostrophe is widespread and frequently criticised as incorrect, [62] [63] often generating heated debate. The British founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society earned a 2001 Ig Nobel prize for "efforts to protect, promote and defend the differences between plural and possessive". [64] A 2004 report by British examination board OCR stated that "the inaccurate use of the apostrophe is so widespread as to be almost universal". [65] A 2008 survey found that nearly half of the UK adults polled were unable to use the apostrophe correctly. [63]

Superfluous apostrophes ("greengrocers' apostrophes")

A sign diverting passengers to a temporary taxi rank at Leeds railway station, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom, with the extraneous apostrophe crossed out by an unknown copy editor

Apostrophes used in a non-standard manner to form noun plurals are known as greengrocers' apostrophes or grocers' apostrophes, often called (spelled) greengrocer's apostrophes [66] and grocer's apostrophes. [67] They are sometimes humorously called greengrocers apostrophe's, rogue apostrophes, or idiot's apostrophes (a literal translation of the German word Deppenapostroph, which criticises the misapplication of apostrophes in Denglisch). The practice, once common and acceptable (see Historical development), comes from the identical sound of the plural and possessive forms of most English nouns. It is often criticised as a form of hypercorrection coming from a widespread ignorance of the proper use of the apostrophe or of punctuation in general. Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, points out that before the 19th century, it was standard orthography to use the apostrophe to form a plural of a foreign-sounding word that ended in a vowel (e. g., banana's, folio's, logo's, quarto's, pasta's, ouzo's) to clarify pronunciation. Truss says this usage is no longer considered proper in formal writing. [68]

The term is believed to have been coined in the middle of the 20th century by a teacher of languages working in Liverpool, at a time when such mistakes were common in the handwritten signs and advertisements of greengrocers (e. g., Apple's 1/- a pound, Orange's 1/6 d a pound). Some have argued that its use in mass communication by employees of well-known companies has led to the less literate assuming it to be correct and adopting the habit themselves. [69]

The same use of apostrophe before noun plural -s forms is sometimes made by non-native speakers of English. For example, in Dutch, the apostrophe is inserted before the s when pluralising most words ending in a vowel or y for example, baby's (English babies) and radio's (English "radios"). This often produces so-called " Dunglish" errors when carried over into English. [70] Hyperforeignism has been formalised in some pseudo- anglicisms. For example, the French word pin's (from English pin) is used (with the apostrophe in both singular and plural) for collectable lapel pins. Similarly, there is an Andorran football club called FC Rànger's (after such British clubs as Rangers F.C.), a Japanese dance group called Super Monkey's, and a Japanese pop punk band called the Titan Go King's. [71]


In the UK there is a tendency to drop apostrophes in many commonly used names such as St Annes, St Johns Lane, [72] and so on.

In 2009 a resident in Royal Tunbridge Wells was accused of vandalism by one neighbour after he painted apostrophes on road signs that had spelled the street name as St Johns Close. [73]

UK supermarket chain Tesco omits the mark where standard practice would require it. Signs in Tesco advertise (among other items) "mens magazines", "girls toys", "kids books" and "womens shoes". In his book Troublesome Words, author Bill Bryson lambastes Tesco for this, stating that "the mistake is inexcusable, and those who make it are linguistic Neanderthals." [74]

Particular cases

George Bernard Shaw, a proponent of English spelling reform on phonetic principles, argued that the apostrophe was mostly redundant. He did not use it for spelling cant, hes, etc., in many of his writings. He did, however, allow I’m and it’s. [75] Hubert Selby, Jr. used a slash instead of an apostrophe mark for contractions and did not use an apostrophe at all for possessives. Lewis Carroll made greater use of apostrophes, and frequently used sha’n’t, with an apostrophe in place of the elided "ll" as well as the more usual "o". [76][ citation needed] These authors’ usages have not become widespread.

Other misuses

The British pop group Hear’Say famously made unconventional use of an apostrophe in its name. Truss comments that "the naming of Hear’Say in 2001 was [...] a significant milestone on the road to punctuation anarchy". [77] Dexys Midnight Runners, on the other hand, omit the apostrophe (though "dexys" can be understood as a plural form of "dexy", rather than a possessive form).

An apostrophe wrongly thought to be misused is in the name of rock band The La’s. This apostrophe is often thought to be a mistake; but in fact it marks omission of the letter d. The name comes from the Scouse slang for "The Lads".

The over-use of apostrophes in names in fantasy literature was satirised by Neal Stephenson in Reamde.


Over the years, the use of apostrophes has been criticised. George Bernard Shaw called them "uncouth bacilli". In his book American Speech, linguist Steven Byington stated of the apostrophe that "the language would be none the worse for its abolition." Adrian Room in his English Journal article "Axing the Apostrophe" argued that apostrophes are unnecessary and context will resolve any ambiguity. [78] In a letter to the English Journal, Peter Brodie stated that apostrophes are "largely decorative...[and] rarely clarify meaning". [79] Dr. John C. Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London, says the apostrophe is "a waste of time". [78]