Using Apostrophes to Make Words Possessive

cans in a bagBeginning writers sometimes mistakenly add apostrophes to make words plural, but this is not how the apostrophe is used; the apostrophe is used to show possession or ownership.


Sam’s game plan
my friend’s DVD
Beth’s zombie

Here’s a test you can use to determine whether an apostrophe is needed—we call it the “of” test. In other words, can you reword the sentence and substitute the apostrophe with “of”?

Using an Apostrophe Using “of” test
my friend’s DVD the DVD of my friend
Beth’s zombie plan the zombie plan of Beth
James’s canned goods* the canned goods of James
*James’ is also acceptable

If you just mean to make a word plural, you should not add an apostrophe. Here is an example of incorrect usage:

The student’s planned to buy their books but played Xbox instead.

Here, you would not use an apostrophe because there is no ownership being established. You can double check this example and see that this use of the apostrophe would not pass the “of” test.

The planned of the students just does not make sense.

The sentence above would not pass the test and should read as follows:

The students planned to buy their books but played Xbox instead.

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