Using the Apostrophe




Spell dogs.

Ask any person to spell the word dogs, and –  more than likely – the majority of answers would be dogs. It would be highly unlikely that dog’s and / or dogs’ would be given. Any teacher worth their salt will impress upon their students the need to put the word in context; accordingly, the word to be spelt should be put into a sentence for clarification. Incidentally, the child should always say the word aloud after spelling it. This is a good strategy for spelling retention.

All three spellings are, in fact, correct.

The APOSTROPHE causes havoc in two words in particular: children’s & its / it’s. Allow me to spell it out from the start. Childrens’ and its’ are not for real when spelling them aloud or writing them; they can best be described as figments of the imagination. They sound okay when pronouncing them, but the misplacing of the apostrophe is their death knell with regard to oral spellings and writing.


The apostrophe is used (1) to show that something belongs to a person, place or thing – which we will call the BELONGING APOSTROPHE – and (2) to indicate where a letter/s  is/are omitted when two separate words are joined up to make a single word, and we will call this apostrophe the JOINING APOSTROPHE.




SINGULAR NOUN: The dog is asleep.

SINGULAR BELONGING  APOSTROPHE: The dog’s tail was caught in the door.

PLURAL NOUN: The dogs are asleep.

PLURAL BELONGING  APOSTROPHE: The dogs’ tails were caught in the door.


Insert the APOSTROPHE before the s in SINGULAR NOUNS.
Insert the APOSTROPHE after the s in PLURAL NOUNS. (CAUTION: See below)

So, the next time that you’re asked to spell dogs without the word being put in context, ask whether it’s for the PLURAL NOUN, SINGULAR BELONGING NOUN or PLURAL BELONGING NOUN. You’ll get some reaction no doubt!


Using the apostrophe with PROPER NOUNS (names) is straightforward – the apostrophe is placed before the s.

EXAMPLES: Irelands capital city, Johns pen, Marys coat, John & Marys aunt


I have = I’ve
We will = We’ll
Do not = Don’t

The new words I’ve, We’ll and Don’t are classified as CONTRACTIONS.

RULE: Insert the  APOSTROPHE where the letter has been left out upon joining. (There’s still only one APOSTROPHE when two or more letters placed next to each other have been left out.)

Generally speaking, as the JOINING APOSTROPHE doesn’t cause as many problems as the BELONGING APOSTROPHE, we’ll concentrate on the latter.

The BELONGING APOSTROPHE and the NOUN’S POSSESSIVE CASE go hand in hand. The focus in this lesson will be on inserting  the APOSTROPHE in children’s and omitting it in its.



child / children

1.The childs book was stolen. (1 child,1 book) (APOSTROPHE before the s)
2.The childs books were stolen. (1 child, more than 1 book) ( APOSTROPHE before the s)
3.The childrens’ books were stolen. (more than 1 child, more than 1 book)
4.The childrens books were stolen. (more than 1 child, more than 1 book)( APOSTROPHE before the s .)


Take note of these SINGULAR & PLURAL NOUNS.

boy boys (PLURAL got by adding s to the SINGULAR)
girl girls (PLURAL got by adding s to the SINGULAR)
toy toys (PLURAL got by adding s to the SINGULAR)
car cars (PLURAL got by adding s to the SINGULAR)
horse horses (PLURAL got by adding s to the SINGULAR)
child children (PLURAL got by NOT adding s to the SINGULAR)
mouse mice (PLURAL got by NOT adding s to the SINGULAR)
goose geese (PLURAL got by NOT adding s to the SINGULAR)


If the PLURAL is formed by + s (or + es) to the SINGULAR, the PLURAL APOSTROPHE is written after the s. (boy + s = boys — boys houses) (fox + es = foxes — foxes tails)
We’ll call these REGULAR PLURALS.

If the PLURAL is formed by NOT + s (or + es) to the SINGULAR, the PLURAL APOSTROPHE is written before the s. (mouse — mice —- mices tails) (geeses tongues) (mens shoes) (womens hats)
We’ll call these IRREGULAR PLURALS. As children is an IRREGULAR PLURAL, an APOSTROPHE must be placed before –  and not after –  thewhen we need to add an s to children to show that something belongs to the children. 

Incidentally, if there’s any confusion as to which of the two side by side PLURAL NOUNS takes the apostrophe, just remember that it is inserted into the owner word, which is usually the first of the two anyway.

EXAMPLE: The tigers cages were empty. Ask yourself: Do the tigers belong to the cages or the cages belong to the tigers? The owner word here is tigers, so the sentence should read: The tigers cages were empty.

The BELONGING APOSTROPHE and the word its: (its refers to a NOUN –  usually either an animal or a thing –  that’s  mentioned elsewhere in the sentence)

If we’re not sure whether the dog is a he or a she, we’ll refer to the dog as it. (No offence intended for dog lovers!)


The dog hurt its paw.

Take note that the paw belongs to the dog and so, we would rightly expect a BELONGING APOSTROPHE to be inserted in dog. However, the word its acts as a PRONOUN for dog, and thus becomes the belonging word. As such, there is a tendency to insert an APOSTROPHE in its. And, as there is only one dog, the tendency is to insert the APOSTROPHE before the s to indicate the SINGULAR. And so, it’s is used as the BELONGING APOSTROPHE.

However, this is wrong. The word it’s has two meanings, and neither of them has anything whatsoever to do with possession / belonging / association / ownership.

it’s means it is or it has (it is a nice day / it has been a wet week)

The apostrophe in it’s is a JOINING APOSTROPHE for CONTRACTIONS, and that’s the extent of its function.

REMINDER: There’s no such word as its’.

The cat licked it’s tail.
The cat licked its tail.

The ship quickly changed it’s course.
The ship quickly changed its course.

The club revealed the name of it’s new manager.
The club revealed the name of its new manager.

The river burst it’s banks.
The river burst its banks.

The company had to recall it’s products as a result of the food scare.
The company had to recall its products as a result of the food scare.

  • When the BELONGING word is its, there’s no APOSTROPHE in it.
  • Because the PLURAL of child is got by adding ren to the SINGULAR, the apostrophe is placed before the s, making it an exception to the general rule of PLURALS having the  APOSTROPHE after the s.

4 choices

1. Insert an apostrophe if required.
2. Omit it if it shouldn’t be there at all.
3. Do nothing; leave well enough alone if everything is okay.
4. Place the apostrophe elsewhere in the word if it’s in the wrong place.

1. The children’s sacks are under their tables.
2. The Lotto syndicate decided to increase its weekly contributions.
3. The shop reduced its prices in the recession.
4. The team lost its way after its best player was sent off.
5. The children’s mother had gone shopping.
6. It’s been raining all day long.
7. The city’s population increased after its boundaries were extended.
8. The army surrendered after its leader was captured.
9. The children’s nanny arrived late.
10. It’s time to move on from apostrophes.

ANSWERS: 1 to 10: No changes required.


1. children = IRREGULAR PLURAL – apostrophe before the s
2. no apostrophe in BELONGING its (its refers to syndicate)
3. no apostrophe in BELONGING its (its refers to shop)
4. no apostrophe in BELONGING its (its refers to team x 2)
5. children = IRREGULAR PLURAL – apostrophe before the s
6. It’s = It has – insert apostrophe between t & s to show that h & a have
been left out of has (two letters left out, only one apostrophe needed)
7. city = SINGULAR, so apostrophe before the s / No apostrophe in BELONGING its (its refers to city)
8. No apostrophe in BELONGING its (its refers to army)
9. Children = IRREGULAR PLURAL – apostrophe before the s
10. It’s = It is – insert apostrophe between t & s to show that the i in is has been
left out when It & is are joined together.


Insert the apostrophe in the right place in the owner / belonging word in the following sentences:

1. The childrens aunt was sick.
2. The childrens tour was cancelled.
3. The childrens holiday was a washout.
4. The childrens competition was deferred .
5. The childrens bikes were stolen.
6. The childrens swimming gala was a great success.
7. The childrens film was on too late.
8. The childrens race was too short.
9. The childrens disco was brilliant.
10. The childrens match was delayed.

ANSWERS: 1. to 10. children’s


Correct these sentences by either
(1) inserting an apostrophe
(2) deleting the apostrophe
(3) rearranging the position of the apostrophe

1. The dog licked its’ bone.
2. The dog licked it’s bone
3. The cat rubbed its’ eyes.
4. The cat rubbed it’s eyes.
5. The fox left its’ den.
6. The fox left it’s den.
7. The company plans to increase its’ workforce in the near future.
8. The company plans to increase it’s workforce in the near future.
9. The club will reward its’ fans for their loyal support.
10. The club will reward it’s fans for their loyal support.

ANSWERS: 1. to 10. Delete all apostrophes . . . quickly! There’s no apostrophe in the BELONGING its. Even Ripley’s
Believe It or Not ! would have to be persuaded to exhibit that fact.

  • An APOSTROPHE should never be put into the BELONGING its.
  • The APOSTROPHE in children’s is always placed before the s.
  • As the BELONGING its describes a NOUN, it is categorised as a POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVE. As it also takes the place of a NOUN, it is regarded as a PERSONAL PRONOUN in the POSSESSIVE CASE.

A character called Roy Cropper appears in this popular television soap drama. He owns and successfully manages a restaurant. He’s not very streetwise, and a ten-year-old would buy and sell him. One could describe Roy as being articulate, eccentric, honest, loyal, reliable, principled, precise, exact, amusing and meticulous.

That last one is beginning to bother me, though. The thing with Roy is that he displays his menu on a blackboard with shepherds pie as a main course of choice for the customer. I firmly believe that Roy would never omit an apostrophe from shepherds pie. To keep his reputation intact, I’m going to pin the blame for this error on the scriptwriter, who may well be blissfully unaware that an apostrophe is actually required at all. Is there a need for one? Can we be selective? There’s no apostrophe in the name of Europe’s premier club football tournament, i.e., the Champions League. There was a time when that tournament was restricted to teams that actually won their national leagues. It was known then as the European Cup, but could so easily have been called the Champions’ League.

Nowadays, teams finishing in second, third and fourth positions in their national leagues are eligible to participate in the Champions League. Maybe that’s the reason why the apostrophe is omitted! It’s not the real deal, so to speak. Now, although there’s absolutely no chance of getting the soccer crowd to insert an apostrophe, I wonder would the Coronation Street scriptwriters do justice to Roy and restore his reputation as a master of the English language. Now, where would Roy put that apostrophe – before or after the s? I think it would be before the s somehow. But, is there an argument for putting it after the s? I wouldn’t like to get into an argument with Roy over it.


Its been a tough day.
The bird flew towards its nest.
The girls friends were at the door. (1 girl)
The girls friends were at the door. (more than 1 girl)
The childs teacher is a man. (1 child)
The childrens teacher is a man. (more than 1 child)
The childrens teachers are men. (more than 1 child)