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Writing tip

Apostrophes

You see them in ads, on signs, in professional biographies, on websites – you name it.

Sometimes they’re in the wrong spot. More often, they shouldn’t even be there. In fact, an apostrophe has just two uses.

Writing and avoiding punctuation confusion – our quick writing tip on when – and when not to – use apostrophes

Two reasons to use an apostrophe

1. To indicate missing letters or numbers in a contraction:

Long version

Contraction

We are

We’re
You are

You’re

Is not

Isn’t

It is

It’s

1980s

’80s

2. To show ownership or possession when used with an “s”:

  • The CEO’s whitepaper is due tomorrow.
  • The bestselling book’s publisher is assisting with my employees’ publications.

Tip: If more than one thing or person has possession, the apostrophe usually goes after the ‘s’ – see employees’ – above.

Exception: As always, there are a couple of exceptions where an apostrophe isn’t needed to show possession. Think: its and whose.

Apostrophes and numbers

Rarely should they mix. In this example, you might be tempted to add an apostrophe between the number and the ‘s’. Don’t!

  • In the 1990s, when I was in my 20s, I loved music and fashion of the ’80s.

The only time an apostrophe is required is when the number is shortened – for example, from 1980s to 80s.

Check out more confusing writing solutions without the complex grammatical theory here.

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