Apostrophes and Quotation Marks


Apostrophes are used to mark contractions, possessives, and some plurals.

Learning Objectives

Identify words which require apostrophes

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Apostrophes can be used to indicate possessives (for example, “my dad’s recipe.”)
  • Apostrophes can be used to form contractions, where they indicate the omission of characters (for example, “don’t” instead of “do not.”)
  • Apostrophes can also be used to form plurals for abbreviations, acronyms, and symbols in cases where forming a plural in the conventional way would make the sentence ambiguous.

Key Terms

  • apostrophe: A punctuation mark, and sometimes a diacritic mark, in languages that use the Latin alphabet or certain other alphabets.

Using Apostrophes to Show Possession

Apostrophes can be used to show who owns or possesses something.

For Nouns Not Ending in -s

The basic rule is that to indicate possession, add an apostrophe followed by an “s” to the end of the word.

  • The car belonging to the driver = the driver’s car.
  • The sandwich belonging to Lois = Lois’s sandwich.
  • Hats belonging to children = children’s hats.

For Nouns Ending in -s

However, if the word already ends with “s,” just use the apostrophe with no added “s.” For example:

  • The house belonging to Ms. Peters = Ms. Peters’ house. (Even though Ms. Peters is singular. )

The same holds true for plural nouns, if their plural ends in “s.” Just use an apostrophe for these!

  • Three cats’ toys are on the floor.
  • The two ships’ lights shone through the dark.

For More Than One Noun

In sentences where two individuals own one thing jointly, add the possessive apostrophe to the last noun. If, however, two individuals possess two separate things, add the apostrophe to both nouns. For example:

  • Joint: I went to see Anthony and Anders’ new apartment. (The apartment belongs to both Anthony and Anders.)
  • Individual: Anders’ and Anthony’s senses of style were quite different. (Anders and Anthony have individual senses of style.)

For Compound Nouns

In cases of compound nouns composed of more than one word, place the apostrophe after the last noun. For example:

  • Dashes: My brother-in-law’s house is down the block.
  • Multi-word: The Minister for Justice’s intervention was required.
  • Plural compound: All my brothers-in-law’s wives are my sisters.

For Words Ending in Punctuation

If the word or compound includes, or even ends with, a punctuation mark, an apostrophe and an “s” are still added in the usual way. For example:

  • Westward Ho!’s railway station
  • Louis C.K.’s HBO special

For Words Ending in -‘s

If an original apostrophe, or apostrophe with s, is already included at the end of a noun, it is left by itself to perform double duty. For example:

  • Our employees are better paid than McDonald’s employees.
  • Standard & Poor’s indexes are widely used.

The fixed, non-possessive forms of McDonald’s and Standard & Poor’s already include possessive apostrophes.

Don’t Use Apostrophes For…

Nouns that are not possessive. For example:

  • Incorrect: Some parent’s are more strict than mine.

Possessive pronouns such as its, whose, his, hers, ours, yours, and theirs. These are the only words that are able to be possessive without apostrophes. For example:

  • Incorrect: That parakeet is her’s.

Using Apostrophes to Form Contractions

In addition to serving as a marker for possession, apostrophes are also commonly used to indicate omitted characters. For example:

  • can’t (from cannot)
  • it’s (from it has or it is)
  • you’ve (from you have)
  • gov’t (from government)
  • ’70s, (from 1970s)
  • ’bout (from about)

An apostrophe is also sometimes used when the normal form of an inflection seems awkward or unnatural. For example:

  • K.O.’d rather than K.O.ed (where K.O. is used as a verb meaning “to knock out”)

Using Apostrophes to Form Plurals

Apostrophes are sometimes used to form plurals for abbreviations, acronyms, and symbols where adding just s as opposed to ‘s may leave things ambiguous or inelegant. For example, when you are pluralizing a single letter:

  • All of your sentences end with a’s. (As opposed to “All of your sentences end with as.”)
  • She tops all of her i’s with hearts. (As opposed to “She tops all of her is with hearts.”)

In such cases where there is little or no chance of misreading, however, it is generally preferable to omit the apostrophe. For example:

  • He scored three 8s for his floor routine. (As opposed to “three 8’s.”)
  • She holds two MAs, both from Princeton. (As opposed to “two MA’s.”)

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are most often used to mark direct speech or words from another author or speaker.

Learning Objectives

Identify situations which require quotation marks

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Quotation marks indicate words that are spoken by someone who is not the author.
  • Quotation marks are also used to title short literary works such as poems, short stories, essays, and newspaper and magazine articles.
  • Quotation marks can also be used to show irony or highlight specific words.
  • In research papers, it is important to use quotation marks to highlight the work of another author when directly quoting that author.

Key Terms

  • quotation mark: A punctuation mark used to denote speech or when words are copied from another author or speaker; can be double quotations (“) or single quotations (‘).

Quotation marks are most commonly used to mark direct speech or identify the words of another author or speaker. Quotation marks can also be used to highlight specific words, express the title of a short literary work, or to emphasize irony.


Single or double quotation marks denote either speech or a quotation. Double quotes are preferred in the
United States. Regardless, the style of opening and closing quotation marks must match. For example:

  • Single quotation marks: ‘Good morning, Frank,’ said Hal.
  • Double quotation marks: “Good morning, Frank,” said Hal.

For speech within speech, use double quotation marks on the outside, and single marks on the inner quotation. For example:

  • “Hal said, ‘Good morning, Dave,'” recalled Frank.

When quoted text is interrupted, a closing quotation mark is used before the interruption, and an
opening quotation mark is used after the interruption. Commas are often used before and after the phrase as well. For example:

  • “Hal said everything was going well,” noted Frank, “but also that he could use a little help.”

Quotation marks are not used for paraphrased speech because a paraphrase is not a direct quote. Quotation marks represent another person’s exact words.

Quoting Literature and Research

In most cases, quotations that span multiple paragraphs should be set as block quotations, and thus do not require quotation marks. When quotation marks are used for multiple-paragraph quotations, the convention in English is to give opening quotation marks to the first and each subsequent paragraph, using closing quotation marks only for the final paragraph of the quotation.

In research papers and literary analyses writers often need to quote a sentence or a phrase. One will need to use quotation marks when quoting authors to show which words are from the other work. Here is an example sentence:

  • When J. K. Rowling began writing the Harry Potter series, she never expected “the boy who lived” to become known worldwide.

In this example, it is clear that the phrase “the boy who lived” is from J. K. Rowling’s book.


As a rule, a whole publication should be italicized. For example, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is italicized because it is a book. The titles of sections within a larger publication or of smaller works (such as poems, short stories, named chapters, journal papers, newspaper articles, TV show episodes, editorial sections of websites, etc.) should be written within quotation marks. Thus, when referencing a chapter from the book one would use quotation marks: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone begins with the chapter entitled “The Chosen One.”

Let’s explore some other examples.

  • Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
  • Dahl’s “Taste” in Completely Unexpected Tales
  • Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Sentinel”
  • The first chapter of 3001: The Final Odyssey is “Comet Cowboy”
  • “Extra-Terrestrial Relays,” Wireless World, October 1945
  • David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” from the album David Bowie


Quotation marks can also offset a nickname embedded in an actual name, or a false or ironic title embedded in an actual title. For example:

  • Nat “King” Cole
  • Miles “Tails” Prower
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Use-Mention Distinctions

Either quotation marks or italics can indicate when a word refers to the word itself rather than its associated concept (i.e., when the word is “mentioned” rather than “used”).

  • Cheese is derived from milk. [Use]
  • Cheese has calcium, protein, and phosphorus. [Use]
  • “Cheese” is derived from a word in Old English. [Mention]
  • Cheese has three e’s. [Mention]


Quotes indicating verbal irony or another special use are sometimes called scare quotes. For example:

  • He shared his “wisdom” with me.
  • The lunch lady plopped a glob of “food” onto my tray.

Quotation marks are also sometimes used to indicate that the writer realizes that a word is not being
used in its current commonly accepted sense. In these cases, the quotation marks can call attention to slang, special terminology, a neologism, or they can indicate words or phrases that are unusual, colloquial,
folksy, startling, humorous, metaphoric, or that contain a pun. For example:

  • Crystals somehow “know” which shape to grow into.
  • I hope your diving meet goes “swimmingly”!

Using quotation marks in these ways should be avoided when possible.

Punctuating Quotations

In English, question marks and exclamation marks are placed inside or outside quoted material depending on whether they apply to the whole sentence or just the quoted portion. Commonly, they apply to the quoted portion and will be included inside the quotation marks. In some situations, however, the exclamation mark or question mark will apply to the sentence as a whole and will come after the quotation mark. In contrast, colons and semicolons are always placed outside of the quotation marks. Let’s explore this punctuation rule further with some examples.

  • Did he say, “Good morning, Dave”? (The question mark does not refer to the phrase within the quotation marks so the question mark is placed outside of the quotation marks.)
  • No, he said, “Where are you, Dave?” (Here, the question mark is part of the question posed within the quotation marks.)
  • There are three major definitions of the word “gender”: vernacular, sociological, and linguistic. (Colons and semicolons always come after the quotation mark.)

In American English, commas and periods are usually placed inside quotation marks, except in the few cases where they may cause serious ambiguity. For example:

  • “Carefree,” in general, means “free from care or anxiety.”
  • The name of the song was “Gloria,” which many already knew.
  • She said she felt “free from care and anxiety.”
  • “Today,” said the Prime Minister, “I feel free from care and anxiety.”
  • To use a long dash on Wikipedia, type in “—”. (Here, the period comes after the quotation mark because quotation marks are used to highlight specifically what should be typed.)

The style used in the UK contains only punctuation used by the original source, placing commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation marks inside or outside quotation marks depending on where they were placed in the material that is being quoted.

  • “Carefree” means “free from care or anxiety.” (American style)
  • “Carefree” means “free from care or anxiety”. (British style)