There are only two situations when you need to use an apostrophe but there are three different uses:
- In place of a missing letter, or letters, when shortening a word; and
- To indicate that something belongs to one person or a singular thing; and
- To indicate that something belongs to more than one person or a a number of things.
1. In place of a missing letter, or letters, when shortening a word:
It is or it has - it's
That is - that's
Cannot - can't
Do not - don't
You are - you're
They are - they're
Guns and Roses - Guns 'n' Roses
- As a general rule we only use an apostrophe when we are shortening a word to create a new pronunciation. For example Road is sometimes abbreviated to Rd, but it doesn't contain an apostrophe because we still read Rd as Road.
2. To indicate that something belongs to one person or a singular thing, put the apostrophe before the s, like this:
The company's headquarters
The city's best restaurant
The team's home ground
The group's web page
The rabbit's hutch
- Though groups, teams, bands etc refer to a number of people or things, they are treated as singular.
- Possessive adjectives – like my, mine, your, yours, his, hers, its, our, ours, their and theirs – are already possessive and therefore do not need apostrophes.
3. To indicate that something belongs to more than one person or a number of things, put the apostrophe after the s, like this:
All the fans' cheers spurred the team to victory.
In the forest the trees' leaves were turning brown.
During the race the cars' engines were really noisy.
The dancers' routine was amazing.
- Some words, like children and gentlemen, are plural without the addition of an s. There is divided opinion as to whether an apostrophe is necessary here because childrens, with or without an apostrophe, can only mean belonging to children. For simplicity's sake I would still advocate using an apostrophe e.g. children's, gentlemen's.