How to Use 's and s' Correctly

How to Use 's and s' Correctly

To be possessive or not to be possessive, that's ultimately the question when dealing with whether to latch an apostrophe onto an s in the front or back of the squiggly letter. It can be rather confusing as you rush to complete a thank you note to a company’s human resource department for an interview or type up a tidy conclusion to a well-written essay on the class’s lectures. Companies enjoy feedback and instructors tend to request essays in classes, so it's best to have a good grasp on this grammar rule.

1 Possessive Reflections

The apostrophe is placed behind the letter s when you're showing ownership. The neighbor’s house was at the mercy of the rain and snow that plagued their part of the state. The singular noun neighbor is aching for an apostrophe s. When a common noun already ends in the letter s, an apostrophe quickly shows the reader that you're using the possessive form. This makes the sentence easier to read and less confusing. Some editors or instructors may require no additional s when the proper noun already ends in an s, such as Jones or Texas. In that case, you'd use a singular apostrophe after the letter s, such as in the Williams’ house withstood Texas’ inclement weather. The family name and state name both end in s, so the apostrophes sit on the outside of each s.

2 Regular Noun Needs

We don’t always use the letter s to make a noun plural. Nouns that form their plurals by tacking on either the letter s or letters es are called regular nouns. When you want to show plural possession, an apostrophe is placed after the letter s, such as in girls’ night out. When the word ends in an es to make it plural, the same rule applies, such as in the actresses’ union. If the regular noun ends in an s, it requires a different way to make it plural. For example, axis becomes axes and patch becomes patches. The es is added when the singular noun ends in s or a double s, the letter x, a ch ending or sh ending.

3 Contraction Considerations

When you join two words together, the apostrophe comes into play. The little punctuation mark points out the letter that is missing, or that’s missing, to be more precise in this context. The term “it is” becomes “it’s.” The apostrophe takes the place of the missing letter i in front of the s of the word “is.” It also works with “do not,” which becomes “don’t,” where the apostrophe replaces the letter o in not.

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at