The apostrophe is a punctuation mark that is commonly used in the English language. It has two main functions; to indicate possession (a possessive apostrophe) and to show where letters have been omitted in a contraction (e.g., shouldn’t). In rare cases, they’re used to mark the plural form of a noun.

Definition: What is an apostrophe?

Have your students ever asked any of the following questions?

  • What is an apostrophe, and what are some examples of apostrophes?
  • When are apostrophes used?
  • What is an omissive apostrophe?
  • How can we learn about apostrophes?

Well, the answers to all of these questions are right here!

An apostrophe is one of the several essential punctuations marks your pupils will learn in primary education. In the English language, we typically use them in two different ways:

  • to show possession
  • to show contraction/ omission

What does an apostrophe look like?

An apostrophe is a small dash punctuation mark placed above the line. To see what an apostrophe looks like, check out the image below for an example:


You might have noticed that they look similar to another piece of punctuation, the comma. But, while they might look similar, the key difference is that commas appear at the bottom of a line of text, while apostrophes appear at the top.

What are the different uses of the apostrophe?

So, when should you use an apostrophe? Apostrophes can be used in writing for a few reasons, including indicating missing letters, possessing an object, and indicating plurals of numbers, notes, and symbols. But to understand all of these different uses, let’s examine them each in detail:

1) What is an omissive apostrophe?

Because of omission, also known as omissive apostrophes, are some of the most commonly used types of apostrophes. Your pupils might come across these a lot when they start reading more extended texts, and they’ll also need to be aware of them by Year 2 as part of the National Curriculum. But just what is an omissive apostrophe?

An apostrophe because of omission is where an apostrophe is used to indicate the missing letters in a contraction (the shortened form of a word or group of words). For example, the terms ‘could not’ and ‘should not’ can be contracted using an omissive apostrophe into ‘couldn’t’ and ‘shouldn’t.’ Let’s take a look at another quick example:

  • ‘What is an omissive apostrophe?’
  • ‘What’s an omissive apostrophe?’

You can see here how an apostrophe is used to represent the ‘I’ which is omitted when the phrase ‘what is’ is contracted to form ‘what’s.’ Contractions like these are usually considered relatively casual and are mainly used when teaching your pupils to write with an informal tone of voice. Below is a list of example contractions using apostrophes:




You will


Must have


You are

Contracted verbs are single words that have been formed from a subject, and a verb, for example, ‘do not,’ creates ‘don’t’ with the use of an omissive apostrophe. Check out these example sentences using a contracting apostrophe:

  • ‘She didn’t do the homework that was due this morning.’
  • ‘I’m planning on reading that book you recommended.’
  • ‘You shouldn’t talk to strangers while walking home.’
  • ‘It’s snowing again; that’s three days in a row now.’

2) What is a possessive apostrophe?

Since the question of “what is an omissive apostrophe?” is behind us, let’s look at the second type: the possessive apostrophe.

You need to indicate something in your writing if something belongs to someone else. But how do you do that? You guessed right, with an apostrophe! This is where learning when apostrophes are used can get a little tricky for you and your pupils, as the rules can change depending on what type of noun you are making into a possessive. If you add an apostrophe to a single noun, add the apostrophe between the noun and the ‘s.’ For example, ‘the writer’s desk.’ However, if you add an apostrophe to plural nouns, add the apostrophe after the ‘s.’ For example, ‘The writers’ desks.’

You can use an apostrophe to indicate possession to show that something belongs to someone. Check out these examples to teach possessive apostrophes:

  • ‘Where is the dog’s leash?’
  • ‘We have to protect the Earth’s atmosphere.’
  • ‘This weekend, we went to my Aunt’s house.’

3) Plurals

Apostrophes can also be used to mark the plural form of a noun, although this isn’t very common. It can also be tricky to tell if using an apostrophe in this way is right or wrong. For example, an unnecessary apostrophe to form the plural of a noun is a widespread mistake and is sometimes referred to as a grocer’s apostrophe. However, there are a few important exceptions to this mistake. The most notable exception to this rule is the plural form of lower case letters, which are formed with an apostrophe to prevent misreading. For example, the sentence, ‘don’t forget to dot all your i’s, ‘ needs the apostrophe to avoid being misread.

To make it easier to remember when to use an apostrophe, remember that most plurals do not contain apostrophes. However, as mentioned above, an apostrophe can be added to the plural form of lowercase letters and numbers. These words are formed with an apostrophe to prevent misreading. Examples of this plural apostrophe include:

  • ‘Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
  • ‘There is 1 m, four i’s, four s’s, and two p’s in ‘Mississippi.”
  • ‘There are two 7’s in 747.’

How to check your apostrophes are correct

It’s always worth checking the apostrophes in a piece of writing, as missing one (or adding one that isn’t needed) is one of the most commonly made punctuation mistakes. To check your apostrophes are correct, you must:

  • Identify its purpose -what is it, an omissive apostrophe or a possessive one?
  • Is the purpose correctly punctuated?

Check out these examples below to see if you and your students can correct the apostrophe errors in these sentences.

  • The bats’ wings ‘arnt black.
  • At seven oc’lock this morning, I was woken up by Steves car.
  • In the 1920s the TV was invented.
  • Its in the horses’ stables
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