Of all the punctuation marks, apostrophes seem to cause the most confusion. Which is funny, because they only have two uses — to stand for missing letters and to show when something belongs to something else. The following five rules should tell you all you need to know to get your apostrophes right every time.
It’s been a great cake-eating contest. (it has)
It’s the best I’ve ever been to. (it is; I have)
But please don’t make me eat more. (do not)
When something belongs to a single person or thing:
my friend’s new cake stand (the cake stand of my friend)
her aunt’s chocolate gateau recipe (the recipe of her aunt)
When something belongs to more than one person or thing:
my friends’ applause (the applause of all my friends)
the aunties’ best cake forks (the cake forks of various aunties)
Tip: If you’re not sure where the apostrophe should go, say the phrase the long way round, using ‘of’. Put the apostrophe where you stop speaking.
the huge appetite of my opponent (put apostrophe here)
my opponent’s huge appetite
the cream fillings of the cakes (put apostrophe here)
the cakes’ cream fillings
the wistful looks of the hungry children (put apostrophe here)
the hungry children’s wistful looks
Tip: For personal names that already end in ‘s’, you can choose to add an extra ‘s’ after the apostrophe if it sounds right when you say it out loud.
Curtis’s cake-eating trophy (correct)
Curtis’ cake-eating trophy (also correct)
The girls ate more than the boys.
The 1990s were my best cake-eating days.
Kate got two As and four Bs at patisserie school.
I ate three muffins and nine cookies.
But do use an apostrophe if the reader could get confused (or rewrite the sentence).
Obey the do’s and don’ts of the contest. (or, Obey the rules of the contest.)
Only use an apostrophe if you mean ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.
It’s been a day of sugar and sore tummies. (it has)
It’s all over now, thankfully. (it is)
Many place names don’t use apostrophes. In some cases, the apostrophe disappears over time. Use a current map or encyclopedia to check.