"Apos" redirects here. For the Romanian village of Apoș, see Bârghiș.
Typewriter apostrophe

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]

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 ʻokina ( ʻ ), 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
Basic rule (singular nouns)

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

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.

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.

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.[lower-alpha 2] 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".[lower-alpha 3] 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.

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:

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

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:

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.[lower-alpha 4] 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.

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.[lower-alpha 5] 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:

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 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).

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:

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

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:

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 1/6d 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 lambasts 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] 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]

Non-English use

As a mark of elision

In many languages, especially European languages, the apostrophe is used to indicate the elision of one or more sounds, as in English.

As a glottal stop

Several languages and transliteration systems use the apostrophe or some similar mark to indicate a glottal stop, sometimes considering it a letter of the alphabet:

The apostrophe represents sounds resembling the glottal stop in the Turkic languages and in some romanizations of Semitic languages, including Arabic. In typography, this function may be performed by the closing single quotation mark. In that case, the Arabic letter ‘ayn (ع) is correspondingly transliterated with the opening single quotation mark.

As a mark of palatalization or non-palatalization

Some languages and transliteration systems use the apostrophe to mark the presence, or the lack of, palatalization:

To separate morphemes

Some languages use the apostrophe to separate the root of a word and its affixes, especially if the root is foreign and unassimilated. (For another kind of morphemic separation see pinyin, below.)

Miscellaneous uses in other languages

Typographic form

The form of the apostrophe originates in manuscript writing, as a point with a downwards tail curving clockwise. This form was inherited by the typographic apostrophe (  ), also known as the typeset apostrophe, or, informally, the curly apostrophe. Later sans-serif typefaces had stylised apostrophes with a more geometric or simplified form, but usually retaining the same directional bias as a closing quotation mark.

With the invention of the typewriter, a "neutral" quotation mark form ( ' ) was created to economize on the keyboard, by using a single key to represent: the apostrophe, both opening and closing single quotation marks, single primes, and on some typewriters the exclamation point by overprinting with a period. This is known as the typewriter apostrophe or vertical apostrophe. The same convention was adopted for quotation marks.

Both simplifications carried over to computer keyboards and the ASCII character set. However, although these are widely used due to their ubiquity and convenience, they are deprecated in contexts where proper typography is important.[88]


Unicode defines several apostrophe characters and characters similar to apostrophe:

The apostrophe is used as a separate letter in Breton cʼh, the Cyrillic Azerbaijani alphabet, and in some transliterations such as the transliterated Arabic glottal stop, hamza, or transliterated Cyrillic soft sign. As the letter apostrophe is seldom used in practice, the Unicode standard cautions that one should never assume text is coded thus.


Typographic (green) and typewriter (red) apostrophe, followed by a prime (blue), between letters I, i with acute accent, using the fonts: Arial, Calibri, Tahoma, Times New Roman, and Linux Libertine

ASCII encoding

The typewriter apostrophe ( ' ) was inherited by computer keyboards, and is the only apostrophe character available in the (7-bit) ASCII character encoding, at code value 0x27 (39). As such, it is a highly overloaded character. In ASCII, it represents a left single quotation mark, right single quotation mark, apostrophe, vertical line or prime (punctuation marks), or an acute accent (modifier letters).

Many earlier (pre-1985) computer displays and printers rendered the ASCII apostrophe as a typographic apostrophe, and rendered the ASCII grave accent ( ` ) U+0060 as a matching left single quotation mark. This allowed a more typographic appearance of text: ``I can't'' would appear as ‘‘I can’t’’ on these systems. This can still be seen in many documents prepared at that time, and is still used in the TeX typesetting system to create typographic quotes.

Typographic apostrophe in 8-bit encodings

Support for the typographic apostrophe (  ) was introduced in several 8-bit character encodings, such as the Apple Macintosh operating system’s Mac Roman character set (in 1984), and later in the CP1252 encoding of Microsoft Windows. There is no such character in ISO-8859-1.

Microsoft Windows CP1252 (sometimes incorrectly called ANSI or ISO-Latin) contains the typographic apostrophe at 0x92. Due to "smart quotes" in Microsoft software converting the ASCII apostrophe to this value, other software makers have been forced to adopt this as a de facto convention. For instance the HTML 5 standard specifies that this value is interpreted as CP1252.[91] Some earlier non-Microsoft browsers would display a '?' for this and make web pages composed with Microsoft software somewhat hard to read.

Entering apostrophes

Although ubiquitous in typeset material, the typographic apostrophe (  ) is rather difficult to enter on a computer, since it does not have its own key on a standard keyboard. Outside the world of professional typesetting and graphic design, many people do not know how to enter this character and instead use the typewriter apostrophe ( ' ). The typewriter apostrophe has always been considered tolerable on Web pages because of the egalitarian nature of Web publishing, the low resolution of computer monitors in comparison to print, and legacy limitations provided by ASCII.

More recently, the correct use of the typographic apostrophe is becoming more common on the Web due to the wide adoption of the Unicode text encoding standard, higher-resolution displays, and advanced anti-aliasing of text in modern operating systems. Because typewriter apostrophes are now often automatically converted to typographic apostrophes by word processing and desktop publishing software (see below), the typographic apostrophe does often appear in documents produced by non-professionals.

How to enter typographic apostrophes on a computer (US keyboard layout)
Unicode (Decimal) Macintosh Windows-1252 Alt code Linux/X HTML entity
U+2019 8217 ⌥ Option+⇧ Shift+] Alt+0146 on number pad AltGr+⇧ Shift+N or Compose+' or

Ctrl+⇧ Shift+U then 2019 then Space/↵ Enter[92]


XML (and hence XHTML) defines an ' character entity reference for the ASCII typewriter apostrophe. No equivalent entity is defined in the HTML 4 standard,[93] despite all the other predefined character entities from XML being defined in HTML. If it cannot be entered literally in HTML, a numeric character reference could be used instead, such as "'" or "'". ' is officially supported in HTML since HTML 5.

Smart quotes

To make typographic apostrophes easier to enter, word processing and publishing software often converts typewriter apostrophes to typographic apostrophes during text entry (at the same time converting opening and closing single and double quotes to their correct left-handed or right-handed forms). A similar facility may be offered on web servers after submitting text in a form field, e.g. on weblogs or free encyclopedias. This is known as the smart quotes feature; apostrophes and quotation marks that are not automatically altered by computer programs are known as dumb quotes.

Such conversion is not always done in accordance with the standards for character sets and encodings. Additionally, many such software programs incorrectly convert a leading apostrophe to an opening quotation mark (e.g., in abbreviations of years: 29 rather than the correct 29 for the years 1929 or 2029 (depending on context); or twas instead of twas as the archaic abbreviation of it was). Smart quote features also often fail to recognise situations when a prime rather than an apostrophe is needed; for example, incorrectly rendering the latitude 49° 53′ 08″ as 49° 53 08".

In Microsoft Word it is possible to turn smart quotes off (in some versions, by navigating through Tools, AutoCorrect, AutoFormat as you type, and then unchecking the appropriate option). Alternatively, typing Control-Z (for Undo) immediately after entering the apostrophe will convert it back to a typewriter apostrophe. In Microsoft Word for Windows, holding down the Control key while typing two apostrophes will produce a single typographic apostrophe.


Some programming languages, like Pascal, use the ASCII apostrophe to delimit string literal. In JavaScript (and ECMAScript, which is nearly identical), Perl, PHP, and Python, and many other languages either the apostrophe or the double quote may be used, allowing string literals to contain the other character (but not to contain both without using an escape character).

The C programming language (and many related languages like C++, Java, C#, and Scala) uses apostrophes to delimit a character literal. In these languages a character is a different object than a 1-letter string.

In Visual Basic (and earlier Microsoft BASIC dialects such as QuickBASIC) an apostrophe is used to denote the start of a comment.[lower-alpha 8]

See also


  1. Pease as an old plural of pea is indeterminate: Lentils’ and pease’[s] use in such dishes was optional. Nouns borrowed from French ending in -eau, -eu, -au, or -ou sometimes have alternative plurals that retain the French -x: beaux or beaus; bureaux or bureaus; adieux or adieus; fabliaux or fabliaus; choux or chous. The x in these plurals is often pronounced. If it is, then (in the absence of specific rulings from style guides) the plural possessives are formed with an apostrophe alone: the beaux' [or beaus'] appearance at the ball; the bureaux' [or bureaus'] responses differed. If the x is not pronounced, then in the absence of special rulings the plurals are formed with an apostrophe followed by an s: the beaux’s appearance; the bureaux’s responses; their adieux’s effect was that everyone wept. See also Nouns ending with silent "s", "x" or "z", below, and attached notes.
  2. For instance:
    "Types I [Jack and Jill's] and II [Jack's and Jill's] are not semantically contrastive. Both allow either a joint or distributive interpretation of the genitive relation."[11]
    "A coordination of genitives such as John's and Mary's children may be interpreted in either a combinatory or a segregatory fashion:
    combinatory meaning:
    'the children who are joint offspring of John and Mary'
    segregatory meaning:
    'John's child and Mary's child'
    OR 'John's children and Mary's child'
    OR 'John's child and Mary's children'
    OR 'John's children and Mary's children' "[12]
  3. For instance:
    "Closely linked nouns are considered a single unit in forming the possessive when the thing being 'possessed' is the same for both; only the second element takes the possessive form.
    my aunt and uncle's house [...]
    When the things possessed are discrete, both nouns take the possessive form.
    my aunt's and uncle's medical profiles [...]"[13]
    "Use 's after the last of a set of linked nouns where the nouns are acting together [...] but repeat 's after each noun in a set where the nouns are acting separately"[14]
    "For joint possession, an apostrophe goes with the last element in a series of names. If you put an apostrophe with each element in the series. you signal individual possession."[15]
  4. An apparent exception is The Complete Stylist, Sheridan Baker, 2nd edition 1972, p. 165: "...citizens’ rights, the Joneses’ possessions, and similarly The Beaux’ Stratagem." But in fact the x in beaux, as in other such plurals in English, is often already pronounced (see a note to Basic rule (plural nouns), above); The Beaux Stratagem, the title of a play by George Farquhar (1707), originally lacked the apostrophe (see the title page of a 1752 edition); and it is complicated by the following s in stratagem. Some modern editions add the apostrophe (some with an s also), some omit it; and some make a compound with a hyphen: The Beaux-Stratagem. Farquhar himself used the apostrophe elsewhere in the standard ways, for both omission and possession.
  5. Gregg Reference Manual, 10th edition, 2003, distinguishes between what it calls possessive and descriptive forms, and uses this distinction in analyzing the problem. From paragraph 628: "a. Do not mistake a descriptive form ending in s for a possessive form[:] sales effort (sales describes the kind of effort)... b. Some cases can be difficult to distinguish. Is it the girls basketball team or the girls’ basketball team? Try substituting an irregular plural like women. You would not say the women basketball team; you would say the women’s basketball team. By analogy, the girls’ basketball team is correct" [italics given exactly as in original, including following punctuation]. (However in this case the phrase in question is not part of the name: the words are not capitalised!) And then this principle is applied to organizations at paragraph 640, where examples are given, including the non-conforming Childrens Hospital, (in Los Angeles): "The names of many organizations, products, and publications contain words that could be considered either possessive or descriptive terms... c. In all cases follow the organization’s preference when known."
  6. In early French such elisions did occur: m’espée (ma +espée, modern French mon épée: "my sword"), s’enfance (sa +enfance, son enfance: "his or her childhood"). But the only modern survivals of this elision with apostrophe are m’amie and m’amour, as archaic and idiomatic alternatives to mon amie and mon amour ("my [female] friend", "my love"); forms without the apostrophe also used: mamie or ma mie, mamour.
  7. Examples include Nuestras vidas son los ríos/que van a dar en la mar,/qu’es el morir. meaning "Our lives are the rivers/that flow to give to the sea,/which is death." (from Coplas de Don Jorge Manrique por la muerte de su padre, 1477) and ¿... qué me ha de aprovechar ver la pintura/d'aquel que con las alas derretidas...? meaning "...what could it help me to see the painting of that one with the melted wings...?" (from the 12th sonnet of Garcilazo de la Vega, c. 1500–36).
  8. As a comment character in MS BASIC, the apostrophe is in most cases an abbreviation of the REM statement, which can be appended to the end of almost any line with a colon (:). The cases where the apostrophe is not an abbreviation for REM would be those where the apostrophe is allowed but a REM statement is not. Note that there are also cases of the reverse constraint; for example, in QuickBASIC, a comment at the end of a DATA statement line cannot start with an apostrophe but must use ": REM".


  1. Quirk, Geenbaum, Leech & Svartvik (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, p. 1636, Longman, London & New York, ISBN 0-582-51734-6.
  2. Oxford English Dictionary
  3. "The English form apostrophe is due to its adoption via French and its current pronunciation as four syllables is due to a confusion with the rhetorical device apostrophé" (W. S. Allen, Vox Graeca. The pronunciation of classical Greek, 3rd edition, 1988. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 100, note 13).
  4. Castellani, Arrigo (1995). "Sulla formazione del sistema paragrafematico moderno". Studi linguistici italiani. 21: 3–47:4.
  5. 1 2 3 Crystal, David (2003). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press. p. 203. ISBN 0-521-53033-4.
  6. Urban Tigner Holmes; Alexander Herman Schutz (1938). History of the French Language. Biblo & Tannen Publishers. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-8196-0191-9.
  7. Alfred Ewert, The French Language, 1933, Faber & Faber, London, p 119
  8. Style Guide, US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics; The United States Government Printing Office Style Manual 2000; The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), 5.25: "The possessive of a multiword compound noun is formed by adding the appropriate ending to the last word {parents-in-law's message}."
  9. CMOS, 7.25: "If plural compounds pose problems, opt for of. ... the professions of both my daughters-in-law."
  10. Is the English Possessive 's Truly a Right-Hand Phenomenon?
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1330–1332. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
  12. 1 2 3 Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Harlow: Longman. pp. 963–965. ISBN 978-0-582-51734-9.
  13. University of Chicago Press (1993). The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers (14th ed.). University of Chicago Press. p. 356. ISBN 978-0-226-10389-1.
  14. Oxford University Press (2012). "New Hart's Rules". New Oxford Style Manual. Oxford University Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-199-65722-3.
  15. Garner, Bryan A. (2003). Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press. p. 625. ISBN 978-0-19-516191-5.
  16. This example is quoted from www.abc.net.au; see The Chicago Manual of Style, 7.18.
  17. This example is quoted from The Gregg Reference Manual, 10th edition, 2005, paragraph 641.
  18. This is correct even though the possessive word hers is usually spelled without an apostrophe; see below in this section; His ’n’ Hers’s first track is theoretically possible but unlikely unless an extra sibilant is actually pronounced after hers.
  19. Most sources are against continuing the italics used in such titles to the apostrophe and the s.
  20. its. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  21. See for example New Hart's Rules. Not one of the other sources listed on this page supports the use of it’s as a possessive form of it.
  22. Frank Bergon,"The Journals of Lewis & Clark",Penguin, New York, 1989, pages xxiv foll.
  23. Fynes, Jane. (26 April 2007) Courier Mail, Little things that matter. News.com.au. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  24. Oxford Dictionaries: "With personal names that end in -s: add an apostrophe plus s when you would naturally pronounce an extra s if you said the word out loud"; MLA Style Manual, 2nd edition, 1998, 3.4.7e: "To form the possessive of any singular proper noun, add an apostrophe and an s"; : "Grammarians (such as Hart, Fowler, Swan and Lynne Truss) and other authorities, such as the Guardian and Economist styleguides, agree that the -’s form should follow all singular nouns, regardless of whether they end in an -s or not.";The Economist’s Style Guide; The Elements of Style makes the same rule, with only sketchily presented exceptions.
  25. Style Guide. The Guardian.
  26. : "For most singular nouns, add an apostrophe and an s (’s) to the end of the word... For names that end with an eez sound, use an apostrophe alone to form the possessive. Examples: "Ramses’ wife", "Hercules’ muscles", "According to Jones’s review, the computer’s graphics card is its Achilles’ heel."
  27. The American Heritage Book of English Usage. 8. Word Formation b. Forming Possessives. bartleby.com
  28. Online Style Guide – A. The Times Online (16 December 2005).
  29. Vanderbilt University’s Style Guide.
  30. According to this older system, possessives of names ending in "-x" or "-xe" were usually spelled without a final "s" even when an /s/ or /z/ was pronounced at the end (e.g. "Alex' brother" instead of "Alex’s brother"), but the possessives of nouns (e.g. "the fox’s fur") were usually spelled as today with a final "s".
  31. Punctuation |Style Guide |CSU Branding Standards Guide |CSU. Calstate.edu. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  32. The Chicago Manual of Style's text: 7.23 An alternative practice. Those uncomfortable with the rules, exceptions, and options outlined above may prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s – hence "Dylan Thomas’ poetry", "Maria Callas’ singing", and "that business’ main concern". Though easy to apply, that usage disregards pronunciation and thus seems unnatural to many.
  33. Chicago Style Q&A: Possessives and Attributives. Chicagomanualofstyle.org. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  34. "DummiesWorld Wide Words". Retrieved 13 March 2007.. The Chicago Manual of Style, 7.22: "For ... sake expressions traditionally omit the s when the noun ends in an s or an s sound." Oxford Style Manual, 5.2.1: "Use an apostrophe alone after singular nouns ending in an s or z sound and combined with sake: for goodness’ sake".
  35. "Practice varies widely in for conscience’ sake and for goodness’ sake, and the use of an apostrophe in them must be regarded as optional" The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, ed. Burchfield, RW, 3rd edition, 1996, entry for "sake", p. 686, ISBN 0198610211.
  36. Starble, Jonathan M. (9 October 2006). Gimme an S: The Robert Court splits over grammar. Legal Times Last accessed 17 December 2011.
  37. In February 2007 Arkansas historian Parker Westbrook successfully petitioned State Representative Steve Harrelson to settle once and for all that the correct possessive should not be Arkansas' but Arkansas’s (Arkansas House to argue over apostrophes). Arkansas’s Apostrophe Act came into law in March 2007 (ABC News [USA], 6 March 2007).
  38. Jacqueline Letzter (1998) Intellectual Tacking: Questions of Education in the Works of Isabelle de Charrière, Rodopi, p. 123, ISBN 9042002905.
  39. Elizabeth A. McAlister (2002) Rara!: Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora, University of California Press, p. 196, ISBN 0520228227.
  40. 1 2 "Apostrophe Cops: Don't Be So Possessive". The New York Times (Sunday Magazine). 10 March 1996.
  41. 1 2 US Board on Geographic Names: FAQs. Geonames.usgs.gov. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  42. Cavella, C, and Kernodle, RA, How the Past Affects the Future: the Story of the Apostrophe. american.edu
  43. ICSM (April 2012). "Guidelines for the Consistent Use of Place Names" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-27.
  44. "The apostrophe has been dropped from most Australian place-names and street names: Connells Point; Wilsons Promontory; Browns Lane." The Penguin Working Words: an Australian Guide to Modern English Usage, Penguin, 1993, p. 41.
  45. St James's Church Piccadilly website. St-james-piccadilly.org. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  46. E.g., under Naming conventions in Active Directory for computers, domains, sites, and OUs at Microsoft Support
  47. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Ed. Peters, P, 2004, p. 43.
  48. International Aviation Womens Association. Iawa.org. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  49. Spelled both with and without the apostrophe at the court’s own home page; but spelled with the apostrophe in Victorian legislation, such as Magistrates’ Court Act, 1989.
  50. Apostrophe Protection Society’s website. Apostrophe.org.uk (12 February 2013). Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  51. Harrods told to put its apostrophe back. Times Online (21 August 2006).
  52. In reports of very informal speech ’s may sometimes represent does: "Where’s that come from?"
  53. SOED gives fo’c’s’le as the only shortened form of forecastle, though others are shown in OED. SOED gives bo’s’n as one spelling of bosun, itself a variant of boatswain.
  54. University of Chicago Press (2010). The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). University of Chicago Press. p. 353. ISBN 978-0-226-10420-1.
  55. 1 2 Oxford University Press (2012). "New Hart's Rules". New Oxford Style Manual. Oxford University Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-199-65722-3.
  56. 1 2 "Purdue University Online Writing Lab: The Apostrophe". Retrieved 10 June 2016.
  57. 1 2 3 Guide to Punctuation, Larry Trask, University of Sussex: "American usage, however, does put an apostrophe here: (A) This research was carried out in 1970's."
  58. Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage. Penguin. 2002. p. 79. ISBN 9780877796336. Letters are usually pluralized with -'s: mind your p's and q's although capital letters are sometimes pluralized wit -s alone. The use of –'s to form the plurals of numerals, abbreviations, and symbols is not now as common as pluralization with simple -s; 1970s, CPUs, &s are more likely to be found than the apostrophied counterparts.
  59. Garner, Bryan A. (2016). Garner's ModernEnglish Usage. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-049148-2. [The apostrophe] is sometimes used to mark the plural of an acronym, initialism, number, or letter—e.g.: CPA's (now more usually CPAs), 1990's (now more usually 1990s), and p's and q's (still with apostrophes because of the single letters).
  60. Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1586–7. ISBN 0-521-43146-8. An apostrophe may be used to separate the plural suffix from the base with letters, numbers (notably dates),symbols, abbreviations, and words used metalinguistically ... This practice is less common than it used to be; with dates and abbreviations ending with an upper case letter, the form without the apostrophe is now more usual ...
  61. "M'Culloch and the Turned Comma" (PDF). Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  62. Truss, p. 41, pp. 48–54.
  63. 1 2 Half of Britons struggle with the apostrophe, The Daily Telegraph, 11 November 2008
  64. "In praise of apostrophes", BBC News, 5 October 2001
  65. 'Fatal floors’ in exam scripts, BBC News, 3 November 2004
  66. greengrocers’ apostrophe. Word Spy. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  67. "Style guide". The Guardian. London. 16 December 2008.
  68. Truss, pp. 63–65.
  69. Christina Cavella and Robin A. Kernodle. "How the Past Affects the Future: The Story of the Apostrophe" (PDF). American University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 March 2009. Retrieved 26 October 2006.
  70. Burrough-Boenisch, Joy (2004). "Dutch Greengrocers". Righting English That’s Gone Dutch (2nd ed.). Kemper Conseil Publishing. pp. 39–40. ISBN 978-90-76542-08-9.
  71. Titan Go King’s, at nippop.com.
  72. A search on www.multimpap.com for "St Johns Lane" in the UK, with or without apostrophe, finds the apostrophe omitted in 5 instances out of 25
  73. Fernandez, Colin, 'Punctuation hero' branded a vandal for painting apostrophes on street signs, The Daily Mail, accessed 19 August 2009
  74. Bill Bryson, "Troublesome Words", Penguin, second edition 1987, p. 177
  75. George Bernard Shaw, from Pygmalion. W. W. Norton & Company. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  76. The apostrophe. Dace.co.uk (30 June 2007). Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  77. Truss, Lynne (2 December 2003). The Guardian Books: John Mullan
  78. 1 2 Nordquist, Richard (29 October 2008). "The Long Campaign to Abolish the Apostrophe". About.com. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  79. Brodie, Peter (November 1996). "Never Say NEVER: Teaching Grammar and Usage". The English Journal. National Council of Teachers of English. 85 (7): 78. JSTOR 820514.
  80. Afrikaanse Woordelys en Spelreëls (9th ed.). Cape Town, South Africa: Pharos Woordeboeke. 2002. ISBN 1-86890-034-7.
  81. Dickinson, Casey (24 November 2000). "Canadian Doughnut Shop Targets Upstate". CNY Business Journal.
  82. Language Construction Kit, refers to the common phenomenon of adding apostrophes to make names appear "alien"
  83. Daniel Bunčić (Bonn), "The apostrophe: A neglected and misunderstood reading aid" at the Tübingen University website Archived 14 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  84. Linguist List 13.1566, Daniel Bunčić, "Apostrophe rules in languages", from 31 May 2002.
  85. "Лексикон" Валерия Скорбилина Архив выпусков программы. vladtv.ru (Archives in Russian)
  86. Apostrophes in Hanyu Pinyin: when and where to use them. Pinyin.info. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  87. Restaurantes gallegos, llamadas O en la provincia de Madrid. paginasamarillas.es
  88. Apostrophe Atrophy. Apostrophe Atrophy. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  89. The Unicode Consortium. Unicode.org.
  90. Unicode code charts. Unicode.org. Retrieved on 7 April 2013.
  91. "8 The HTML syntax". W3C. 17 December 2012. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  92. Unicode input#In X11 (Linux and other Unix variants)
  93. "Character entity references in HTML 4". World Wide Web Consortium. 24 December 1999. Retrieved 15 October 2011.


External links

Look up apostrophe in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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