Using Apostrophes

By Chris Saylor

Last week, I talked about formatting dialogue within dialogue, as part of an attempt to address a request about using apostrophes in fiction. Today’s post will build off of last week’s.

You can use apostrophes in two ways. First, you can use them when combing two words to form a contraction. Most native English speakers learned about contractions in school, but here are a couple of examples just to refresh your memory.

I don’t drink. (don’t = do not)

She hasn’t had any lunch. (hasn’t = has not)

I shan’t vote for that candidate. (shan’t = shall not)

If you want to learn more about using contractions in fiction, see my post on using contractions in fiction.

Second, you can use them to indicate possession. This can be done to indicate singular possession (one person possesses something) or collective possession (a group possesses something).

Here are some examples of when you should and shouldn’t use apostrophes in fiction.

The Browns went to dinner.

We went to the Browns’ for dinner.

In the first example, we don’t use an apostrophe because we’re talking about a group of people—the Brown family. In the second example, we do use an apostrophe because we are showing that the place where we went to dinner belongs to the Browns.

The Browns own the Browns’ house.

One more example so you can see this in action:

Melanie’s shoes had holes in them.

We use an apostrophe here because the shoes are owned by Melanie.

My grade 8 class had three Melanies in it.

We don’t use an apostrophe here because we’re talking about a group of people.

Do you have any questions or any other aspects of grammar for fiction writers you would like to see discussed? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to address them.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Tenses.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.