Basics References

1.Use the apostrophe with contractions. The apostrophe is always placed at the spot where the letter(s) has been remove.

Green check mark don’t (do not)

Green check markisn’t (is not)

Green check mark they’re (they are), it’s (it’s = it is)

X mark (The less effective choice for most professional and academic papers. Not: it’s for possessive. The cat played with its ball.
No apostrophe for possessives: their, ours, mine, its.

2.Use the apostrophe to show possession. Place the apostrophe before
the s to show possession by one person. Here, you will also need to keep track of capitalization and the differences between possessives and plurals, as they sometimes double up .

Green check mark the boy’s hat (One boy possesses one hat.)

Green check mark the boy’s hats (One boy possesses more than one hat. The hats were his.)

Green check mark the boys’ hats

More than one boy possesses hats. We cannot tell how many boys possess more than one hat from this statement.  If you wanted to show that many boys all
shared the same hat, of course, you’d say, “the boys’ hat”.

Graduation: Millersville students processing.A word about academic and other professional ranks:

The usage:The Princeton Review reminds us that it’s a master‘s degree or a bachelor‘s degree (singular possessive and not plural or plural possessive). Doctoral degree include things like a Ph.D., M.D., Ed.D., etc. Terms such as master’s degree are not titles; they are descriptors, yet they are still sometimes improperly capitalized as proper nouns. Do not put the possessive in the degree itself:

Green check markHe has a B.S. in Physics. (Alternatively, BS in Physics. See Abbreviations.)
Green check mark Fred Flintstone, M. Div. ate a whole dinosaur egg today and exploded.
Never use both a courtesy title and degree.

X mark (The less effective choice for most professional and academic papers.  Ms. Stevens, Ph.D.
Instead pick one: Simone Stevens, PhD;  Ms. Simone Stevens.

Titles are not always academic. Judges, elected officials, military personnel, etc., use their official ranks and retain them forever. Hence, it’s equally President O’Bama, President Clinton, General Patton and Justice O’Connor. Even after he retires or dies, the president of our university will still be Dr. John Anderson or President John Anderson. Which one is his choice, though generally a person goes with the highest rank earned. So, President Clinton does not use Governor Clinton, nor does President O’Bama use Senator Obama.

Note: The New York Times uses Mr. or Ms. after a first mention of an official title.

Green check mark First time: President Clinton.
Green check mark Next time in the same article: Mr. Clinton.

Right: Sam finally earned her master’s degree.
Right: She received her Master of Education in English (M.Ed.) from Millersville University.
Right: Millersville University awarded 102 master’s and 650 bachelor’s degrees last spring.
Right: He earned a Bachelor of Architecture in 2013.
Wrong: She earned a Master’s of Science in Emergency Management degree. (Speaking generically, write master’s degree, but for a particular degree, it’s Master of...)
Right: She has an Graduate Certificate in Nursing Education.

Do not precede a name with a title of an academic degree and follow it with the abbreviation for that degree.

Right: John M. Anderson, Ph.D., is president of Millersville University.
Right: Dr. John M. Anderson is president of Millersville University.
Wrong: Dr. John M. Anderson, Ph.D., is president of Millersville University.

It may seem a bit silly and pretentious to pile up degrees, but it is understandable that those who earned several terminal degrees would want them listed (e.g., Sam Spade, DD, MD, PhD), as earning them is a big deal . Under most circumstances, stick with the highest degree, as the lower ones are assumed:

X mark (The less effective choice for most professional and academic papers. Silly: Fred Flintstone, A.B.A., B.A., M.A., Ph.D., will…
Green check markFred Flintstone, Ph.D. will…

Do not use Dr. before the names of those who hold honorary degrees only. References to unearned degrees must specify the degree is honorary. In general, people like Oprah (honorary Doctor of Laws, Harvard 2013; Doctor of Humane Letters, Duke 2009) do not go around calling themselves Dr. after being awarded honorary degrees from institutions. In general, if you’re accomplished enough that univesities of that caliber want to present you with honorary degrees, you have the ego strength not to need to flaunt them.

Finally, the last name may be used with no titles at all, which is often preferable to maintain consistency:

“Eddey over at S&M has taught that class for the last seven years…each time with overflowing enrollments.” “Did nobody notice that he’s an orangutan?” Silvia whispered. “Well, they thought it was hippy hair,” he explained, tentatively.

3.To show possession by more than one person, make the noun plural first. Then immediately use the apostrophe. Examples:

one boy’s hat two boys’ hats
one woman’s hat two women’s hats
one actress’s hat two actresses’ hats
one child’s hat two children’s hats
Ms. Smith’s house the Smiths’ house

4.To show singular possession with proper nouns ending in -s (or an /s/ sound), you have the option of dropping the s that would normally follow the apostrophe.

Green check mark Example of singular possession:
Ms. Jones’ office OR Ms. Jones’s office

Green check mark Example of plural possession:
the Joneses’ house

     NOTE: This example still follows Rule 3.
5.With a singular compound noun, show possession with ’s at the end of the word as in Rule 2.

my mother-in-law’s hat

6. If the compound noun is plural, Rule 3 still applies. First make the plural and then the possessive. Examples:

  • my two brothers-in-laws hats,
  • the two companies’ agreement,
  • the childrens books,
  • two years’ worth of savings

7.Use the apostrophe and -s after the second name only if two people possess the same item. Examples:

  • Mark and Sarah‘s home is constructed of redwood.
  • Mark‘s and Sarah‘s job contracts
    will be renewed next year. (separate ownership)
  • Mark and Sarah‘s job contracts will be renewed next year. (joint ownership of more than one contract)

8.Never use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns—his, hers, its, theirs, ours, yours. They already show possession so do not need an apostrophe. The only time an apostrophe is used for it’s is when it is a contraction for it is.

  • This book is hers, not yours.
  • It hurt its paw.
    BUT It‘s a nice day. (It is a nice day)
  • That is your right.BUT You‘re right.
    (You are right.)

9. Using an apostrophe to show plurals of numbers, letters, and figures is optional. Style books vary in their recommendations.

Forming plurals of lowercase letters

Apostrophes are used to form plurals of letters that appear in lowercase; here the rule appears to be more typographical than grammatical, e.g. “three ps” versus “three p‘s.” To form the plural of a lowercase letter, place ‘s after the letter. There is no need for apostrophes indicating a plural on capitalized letters, numbers, and symbols (though keep in mind that some editors, teachers, and professors still prefer them). Here are some examples:

Green check mark Watch your ps and q‘s. (The abbreviation p‘s and q‘s = a phrase indicating politeness, possibly from “mind your pleases
and thank yous”?)

Green check mark Three Macintosh G4s = three of
the Macintosh model G4s are missing.

Green check mark There are two G4s currently used
in the writing classroom.

Green check mark
Many &s = many ampersands
That printed page has too many
&s on it.

Green check mark  The 1960s = the years in decade
from 1960 to 1969

The 1960s were a time of great
social unrest.

Green check mark  She consulted with three M.D.’s.
She consulted with three M.D.s.

Green check mark She went to three M.D.s’ offices (plural possessive).
Note: Increasingly, apostrophes are being left off
AND the periods are omitted as well: There are three MDs in that practice.10.Use possessive case in front of a gerund (-ing word; noun derived from a verb and having all case forms except the subject of the sentence). Remember that possessive pronouns (mine, his, hers, its, yours, theirs) do not take apostrophes.

  • Alex‘s skating was a joy to behold.
  • This does not stop Joan‘s inspecting of our facilities next Thursday.
  • I appreciate your inviting me to dinner.
  • We admired the choir‘s singing.
  • BUT We admired their singing.


Bernstein, Theodore. Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears, and Outmoded Rules of English Usage. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. 1971. Web. 30 May 2014.

Bonk, Mary Rose. Acronyms, Initialisms, and Abbreviations Dictionary, edited by Mary Rose Bonk (27th ed.) Gale Research, 2000. Print.

CIA. CIA Word Factbook. “CIA World Factbook Appendix on Abbreviations.” 2005. Web. 15 December 2005.

College Speak. “Matriculate, Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral, Terminal, Certificate.” The Princeton Review. 2011. Web. 30 June 2014.

Corbett, Phillip. “After Deadline: Newsroom Notes on Usage and Style.The New York Times. 13. April 2010. Web. 30 May 2014.

Garbl’s Writing Center. “Style Manual.” Seattle, Washington. 21 November 2005. Web. 23 July 2013.

Indiana University. “The Oxford English Dictionary List of Abbreviations.” (n.d.) Web.  21 December 2005.

Purdue University. The Owl at Purdue. 2005. Web. December 4, 2005.

“Q&A.” The Chicago Manual of Style Online. The Chicago Manual of Style. 2010. Web. 30 May 2014.


Graduate Student Commencement Ceremony.” (Cropped)
Millersville University. (n.d.) Web. 1 July 2014.

Basics  References

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