How to Use an Apostrophe

Useful “How To Use An Apostrophe” flowchart from The Oatmeal:

FILED UNDER: Education, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Thank you for posting this! I hate hate hate it when apostrophes get used incorrectly. Yes, it can be a bit confusing, but it’s worth it. Makes you looks a lot smarter, too!

  2. OzarkHibilly says:

    I generally avoid using them just because it is better, and clearer, writing.

  3. john personna says:

    James’s is acceptable? It is a decline of the moral order.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: I still fight against that, but I’m losing.

  5. John Burgess says:

    James and John Personna: That’s an uphill battle against going-on 500 years of English usage. See: Court of St. James’s or St. James’s Place (1535)

  6. Trumwill says:

    Regarding possessives of words that end with “s”, I wrote on the subject a while back when Arkansas designated its official possessive spelling as Arkansas’s. I consulted five universities, all of which had different opinions.

    I was taught never to put the “‘s” in there, until around high school when it was deemed acceptable. My wife was taught that you add apostrophe-s when it’s in the pronunciation. So it would be James’ and Arkansas’s (since you’re pronouncing an “s” where you otherwise wouldn’t for the latter), and that the pronunciation for James’ is actually the same as James, not Jameses.

    According to Merideth College, the rules that govern S also govern X and Z, so it would be Alex’ or Alvarez’ instead of Alex’s or Alvarez’s, but I have never seen that in practice.

  7. Neil Hudelson says:

    If Strunk and White sayeth that an apostrophe +s shall be used to denote ownership when using a proper name, regardless of consonant ending of said name, with the exception of “Jesus” (but only that one Jesus, not some guy from Latin America), then it shall be so.

    Now, I wonder what they have to say about needlessly long and confusing sentence clauses…

  8. Neil Hudelson says:


    Are you saying you are equal to Jesus? 😉

  9. Neil Hudelson says:

    Also, this song has always been useful (just after the email is read):

  10. mattb says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Neil you beat me to it. That was what I was going to post… and I do still sing that song at times when working through proofreading.