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When and Where do you use Apostrophes?

When and where to use apostrophes is the most asked question when wording invitations or what is correct on return address labels. 

DO NOT use an apostrophe on your return address!
This the number one mistake made on invitations (See rule 1 below).  On a return address, " The Smiths" is plural for "Smith" and means there is more than one person named Smith and the invitation is from them all.  When in doubt, we like to use "The Smith Family".

"The Smith's" (with an apostrophe) is the plural possesive of "Smith".  The "Smith's" means the possession of more than one "Smith" of something (see Rule 2 below) like "The Smith's car is green". 

So, the proper grammar is "The Smiths invite you ..." You are using the plural form of Smith (Smiths) not possessive for (Smith's), so no apostrophe, please!

DO NOT use an apostrophe to sign your names!
When signing your Christmas cards or thank you notes with your names: "Happy Holidays from the Smiths" -- there is no apostrophe as you mean "plural" as the message is from all the people of the Smith family.

Grammar Rules of the Apostrophe:


Rule 1.

Do not use an apostrophe for the plural of a name.


We visited the Sanchezes in Los Angeles.

The Changs have two cats and a dog.

Rule 2.

To show plural possession, make the noun plural first. Then immediately use the apostrophe.


the Changs' house

the Joneses' golf clubs

the Strauses' daughter

the Sanchezes' artwork

the Hastingses' appointment

the Leeses' books

two boys' hats
two women's hats
two actresses' hats

two children's hats

Rule 3.

Use the apostrophe to show possession. Place the apostrophe before the s to show singular possession.


one boy's hat

one woman's hat

one actress's hat

one child's hat

Ms. Chang's house

NOTE: Although names ending in s or an s sound are not required to have the second s added in possessive form, it is preferred.

Mr. Jones's golf clubs

Texas's weather

Ms. Straus's daughter

Jose Sanchez's artwork

Dr. Hastings's appointment (name is Hastings)

Mrs. Lees's books (name is Lees)

Rule 4.

Use the apostrophe where the noun that should follow is implied.



This was his father's, not his, jacket.

Rule 5.

Use the apostrophe with contractions. The apostrophe is always placed at the spot where the letter(s) has been removed.


don't, isn't

You're right.

She's a great teacher.

Rule 6.

With a singular compound noun, show possession with 's at the end of the word.


my mother-in-law's hat

Rule 7.

If the compound noun is plural, form the plural first and then
use the apostrophe.


my two brothers-in-law's hats

Rule 8.

Use the apostrophe and s after the second name only if two people possess the same item.


Cesar and Maribel's home is constructed of redwood.

Cesar's and Maribel's job contracts will be renewed
next year.

Separate ownership.

Cesar and Maribel's job contracts will be renewed next year.
Joint ownership of more than one contract.

Rule 9.

Never use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns: his, hers, its, theirs, ours, yours, whose. They already show possession so they do not require an apostrophe.



don't, isn't



You're right.

Rule 10.

The only time an apostrophe is used for it's is when it is a contraction for it is or it has.


It's a nice day.

It's your right to refuse the invitation.

It's been great getting to know you.

Rule 11.

The plurals for capital letters and numbers used as nouns are not formed with apostrophes.





She consulted with three M.D.s.
She went to three M.D.s' offices.
The apostrophe is needed here to show plural possessive.

She learned her ABCs.

the 1990s not the 1990's

the '90s or the mid-'70s not the '90's or the mid-'70's

She learned her times tables for 6s and 7s.             



Use apostrophes with capital letters and numbers when the meaning would be unclear otherwise.



Please dot your I's.


You don't mean Is.


Ted couldn't distinguish between her 6's and 0's.


You don't mean Os.

Rule 12.

Use the possessive case in front of a gerund (-ing word).


Alex's skating was a joy to behold.

This does not stop Joan's inspecting of our facilities
next Thursday.

Rule 13.

If the gerund has a pronoun in front of it, use the possessive form
of that pronoun.


I appreciate your inviting me to dinner.

I appreciated his working with me to resolve the conflict.

You might also like:

   ...Invitation Do's & Don'ts

   ...12 Things RSVP does not Mean

   ...What to include on Invitations

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