How to Use Apostrophes Correctly

Writing a research paper without any grammar mistakes may be challenging, and here is a quick guide for you to follow. In this post, we will show you how to use apostrophes in academic writing.


What Is an Apostrophe?

Apostrophe (’) looks like a comma hanging at the top of the line. In English, it is used to indicate possession (Sam’s book, Mary’s dress) and to contract words (don’t instead of do not, you’re instead of you are).


Apostrophes for Possession

Use an apostrophe followed by s (’s) AFTER a proper name or noun denoting an organisation or person to say that something (or someone) belongs to them.

The employees of Tesco -> Tesco’s employees

The money of the fund -> the fund’s money

The daughter of the founder -> the founder’s daughter

The plan of Steve -> Steve’s plan

When you state possession or membership, an apostrophe is better than a preposition.

As you see in the examples above, the forms using apostrophes are more concise and flow better.

When the noun standing for the possessor is plural and ending in –s, add only an apostrophe without s:

The employees’ pensions

The colonists’ heritage

When the noun is plural, but not ending in –s, use an apostrophe followed by s (’s) like for a singular noun:

Women’s wear

Children’s toys

When the noun is singular and ends in –s, you can use either an apostrophe followed by s or only an apostrophe:

Thomas’s books

Thomas’ books

Both forms are conventional English. Unless your tutor explicitly prescribes the use of either, you are free to choose.

The main thing is to be consistent.

Whatever form you prefer, stick to it throughout the paper. You can’t have Thomas’ in one paragraph and Thomas’s in another.


Apostrophes for Contraction

A bit of good news. You will not be using many of these in your academic paper.

Actually, you will want to avoid them whenever possible.

Contractions using apostrophes (doesn’t, haven’t, we’re, we’ll) are bad academic style.

Tutors may deduce points if you use them.

Just write both words in full.

NO: The investors haven’t yet estimated the cash flows.

YES: The investors have not yet estimated the cash flows.

NO: We’ll conduct another survey.

YES: We will conduct another survey.

The ONLY case when you use apostrophes for contraction in a research paper is when you directly cite another person’s words.

In this case, contractions are appropriate to convey natural human speech.

Put another person’s words in double quotation marks. Check that the apostrophe stands in its proper place.

MS Word will fix some obvious confusions, e. g. havent or doesnt, by automatically inserting an apostrophe.

However, were in place of we’re or well in place of we’ll can be challenging to spot. You can use a free grammar checking tool, e. g. Grammarly, to deal with these.


Confusion of you’re (you are), you and your is one of the most common errors that even native English speakers make. If you have any interviews, double-check these forms in your transcripts.

NO: “Your my best employee”, he said.

NO: “You my best employee”, he said.

YES: “You’re my best employee”, he said.


Consult this guide to avoid common errors in the use of apostrophes. As you gain practice, you will start to see right away which form goes where. Protection Status