Technical Writing Tip: Using Apostrophes Correctly

December 11, 2023 Breanne MacDonald

Apostrophes are a handy punctuation mark, but they often are misused. Mainly used to denote possession or contractions, apostrophes can sometimes be added unnecessarily, especially when plurals are involved. Here are some basic tips for knowing when to use them – and when NOT to! 

Possession 

  • If something belongs to someone or something, you use an apostrophe + s to indicate this: Aaron’s computer, Julie’s desk, the hotel’s lobby. 
  • For plural nouns that end in s, just add an apostrophe to the end: users’ passwords, clients’ projects. 
    • Watch out for the placement of the apostrophe with plural noun possessives – the user’s network (apostrophe before the s) indicates a network belonging to one user, while the users’ network (apostrophe at the end) indicates one network belonging to multiple users. 
  • For plural nouns that don’t end in s, add an apostrophe + s: children’s toys, women’s clothing. 
  • Watch out for instances where you’re not using an apostrophe when one is actually needed: the computers hard drive should be the computer’s hard drive.  

Contractions 

  • Apostrophes are used to contract two words: do not > don’t, might have > might’ve, it is > it’s (not to be confused with its!). In these cases, the apostrophe is standing in for the letters that have been taken out: might ha’ve. 
  • They can also be used for single words, for example when dropping the “be” in because > ’cause. (In these cases, make sure you’re using an apostrophe and not a single quotation mark!) 

Leave Them Out 

  • Apostrophes should not be used to make a word plural – if you’re writing about laptop’s, monitor’s, and keyboard’s, you can lose those apostrophes: laptops, monitors, and keyboards
  • Apostrophes are not needed with personal pronouns – just add an s: yours, hers, theirs

As with most things grammar-related, there are always a few exceptions (for example, a number or letter on its own can take an apostrophe to indicate plurality if it could be misread: A’s, B’s, and C’s), but keeping the above rules in mind will help you avoid most missteps when it comes to apostrophes. 

About the Author

Breanne MacDonald

Technical Editor<br><br>Fueled by her meticulous nature, an eye for detail, and a love of books, Breanne has been an editor for over 10 years. She has been a technical editor with ASCENT since 2019, and outside the office she is an avid volunteer with the Editors’ Association of Canada. Breanne holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University and a certificate in publishing from Ryerson University.

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