Apostrophes and Quotation Marks



an icon showing an apostropheWith possessives, the apostrophe is used in combination with an s to represent that a word literally or conceptually possesses what follows it. Singular words whether or not they end in s, are made possessive by adding an apostrophe + s. For plural words, we typically indicate possession simply by adding the apostrophe without an additional s. However, a plural that does not end in an s (e.g., bacteria), we would add an apostrophe + s.

  • a student’s paper
  • one hour’s passing
  • Illinois’s law
  • interviewees’ answers
  • her professors’ office (an office shared by two of her professors; if it were just one professor we would write her professor’s office)
Note: Practices vary from style to style, so be sure to check the rules in your course’s discipline for this.


A contraction is a shortened phrase. He will becomes he’llare not becomes aren’t, would have becomes would’ve, and it is becomes it’s. In all of these cases, the apostrophe stands in for the missing letters.

You may find yourself being steered away from using contractions in your papers. While you should write to your teacher’s preference, keep in mind that leaving out contractions can often make your words sound over formal and stilted. (And you shouldn’t eliminate contractions in your papers just to up your word count!)

Your versus You’re

Your versus You’re

  • Your v. you’re
  • Its v. it’s
  • Their v. they’re

All three of these pairs are the same kind of pair: a possessive pronoun and a contracted version of a pronoun + to be (you’reyou areit’sit isthey’rethey are). These are easy to mix up (especially its/it’s) because—as we’ve learned—an apostrophe + s indicates possession. The best way to use these correctly is to remember that possessive pronouns never have an apostrophe: if there’s an apostrophe with a pronoun, it’s a contraction, not a possessive.

Acronyms and Numbers

In technical writing, acronyms and numbers are frequently pluralized with the addition of an apostrophe s, but this is falling out of favor, and there is typically no need to put an apostrophe in front of the s. Therefore, SSTs (sea surface temperatures) is more acceptable than SST’s when your intention is simply to pluralize.

Ideally, use the apostrophe before the s with an acronym or a number only to show possession (i.e., “an 1860’s law”; “DEP’s testing”) or when confusion would otherwise result (“mind your p’s and q’s”).

When talking about a specific decade the 1920s should be shortened to the ’20s. Notice that the apostrophe curls away from the numbers, indicating that the missing characters originally appeared prior to the apostrophe.


Read the following passage. Identify any errors with apostrophes. Type the corrected words in the text frame below:

Thanks to NASAs’ team of sniffers, led by George Aldrich, astronauts can breathe a little bit easier. Aldrich is the “chief sniffer” at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. His’s job is to smell items before they can be flown in the space shuttle.

Aldrich explained that smells change in space and that once astronauts are up there, their stuck with whatever smells are onboard with them. In space, astronauts aren’t able to open the window for extra ventilation. He also said that its important not to introduce substances that will change the delicate balance of the climate of the International Space Station and the space shuttle.

Quotation Marks

an icon showing opening and closing quotation marksThere are three typical ways quotation marks are used. The first is pretty self-explanatory: you use quotation marks when you’re making a direct quote.

  • He said “I’ll never forget you.” It was the best moment of my life.
  • Yogi Berra famously said, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

If you’re just writing an approximation of something a person said, you would not use quotation marks:

  • She told me about Pizza the three-toed sloth yesterday.
  • He said that he would be late today.

The second is when you’re calling attention to a word. For example:

  • I can never say “Worcestershire” correctly.
  • How do you spell “definitely”?

Note: It is this course’s preference to use italics in these instances:

  • I can never say Worcestershire correctly.
  • How do you spell definitely?

However, using quotes is also an accepted practice.

The last use is scare quotes. This is the most misused type of quotation marks. People often think that quotation marks mean emphasis.

  • Buy some “fresh” chicken today!
  • We’ll give it our “best” effort.
  • Employees “must” wash their hands before returning to work.

However, when used this way, the quotation marks insert a silent “so-called” into the sentence, which is often the opposite of the intended meaning.

Where do Quotation Marks Go?

Despite what you may see practiced, the fact is that the period and comma always go inside the quotation marks. (The rules in British English are different, which may be where some of the confusion arises.)

  • Correct: The people of the pine barrens are often called “pineys.”
  • Incorrect: The people of the pine barrens are often called “pineys”.

The semicolon, colon, dash, question mark, and exclamation point can fall insider outside of the quotation marks, depending on whether the punctuation is a part of the original quote:

  • This measurement is commonly known as “dip angle”; dip angle is the angle formed between a normal plane and a vertical.
  • Built only 50 years ago, Shakhtinsk—“minetown”—is already seedy.
  • When she was asked the question “Are rainbows possible in winter?” she answered by examining whether raindrops freeze at temperatures below 0 °C. (Quoted material has its own punctuation.)
  • Did he really say “Dogs are the devil’s henchmen”? (The quote is a statement, but the full sentence is a question.)


Has the following passage been punctuated correctly? Type any corrections in the text frame below:

Gabrielly and Marcelo both knew a lot of “fun facts” that they liked to share with each other. Yesterday Gabrielly said to Marcelo, “Did you know that wild turkeys can run up to twenty-five miles per hour?”

“Well, an emu can run twice that speed,” Marcelo responded.

“Did you know that there’s a dinosaur-themed park in Poland called JuraPark Bałtów”? Gabrielly asked.

Marcelo then told her about “Rusik, the first Russian police sniffer cat, who helped search for illegal cargoes of fish and caviar”.