1 of 2

noun (1)

apos·​tro·​phe ə-ˈpä-strə-(ˌ)fē How to pronounce apostrophe (audio)
: a mark ' used to indicate the omission of letters or figures, the possessive case (as in "John's book"), or the plural of letters or figures (as in "the 1960's")
In the contraction "can't," the apostrophe replaces two of the letters in the word "cannot."


2 of 2

noun (2)

: the addressing of a usually absent person or a usually personified thing rhetorically
Carlyle's "O Liberty, what things are done in thy name!" is an example of apostrophe.

Examples of apostrophe in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Punctuation marks don’t come much smaller than the apostrophe. John Kelly, Washington Post, 23 Oct. 2023 Friends had raved about this unspoiled, mountainous peninsula in Greece, which curves like an apostrophe around the Pagasetic Gulf, north of Athens. Charlotte Higgins, Travel + Leisure, 9 Oct. 2023 Back then — 1974, the web informs me — Burger King knew how to use an apostrophe. John Kelly, Washington Post, 8 Oct. 2023 The experience underscored for him the apostrophe’s importance in clear communication. John Kelly, Washington Post, 14 Aug. 2023 Letters and emails arrived from all over with examples of misuse of the apostrophe. James R. Hagerty, WSJ, 5 May 2021 An apostrophe looks like a little 9, not a little 6. John Kelly, Washington Post, 2 July 2023 Operated by Johnson High School product Brett Byrom, formerly a cook at Huntsville Westin hotel, Nomads (no apostrophe) brings Southern sass to their ’dogs. Matt Wake | Mwake@al.com, al, 4 July 2023 Allowing for all that, about 14 states appear to refer to the holiday as President's Day (note the apostrophe before the letter s). Harry Enten, CNN, 21 Feb. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'apostrophe.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun (1)

borrowed from French & Late Latin; French, borrowed from Late Latin apostrophus, apostrophos "mark placed above a consonant to indicate that a following vowel has been deleted," borrowed from Greek apóstrophos (feminine noun, presumably shortened from the collocation apóstrophos prosōidía, with prosōidía in sense "accent mark"), from apóstrophos, adjective, "turned away, averted," derivative of apostréphein "to turn back, turn away" — more at apostrophe entry 2

Note: The sources of English apostrophe imply that the word would have been pronounced with three syllables, but pronunciation with four syllables, copying apostrophe entry 2, was general by at least the time of the Oxford English Dictionary, first edition (1885). An early occurrence in Shakespeare's Love's Labor Lost, 1598 ("You finde not the apostraphas, and so misse the accent") is apparently directly from Latin. The motivation for the sense "turned away, averted" is uncertain. Classical scholia explain apóstrophos variously as referring to the bent shape of the mark, or to its function as averting hiatus (see W.S. Allen, Vox Graeca, second edition, Cambridge, 1974, p. 94; according to Allen, "the latter explanation seems the more probable").

Noun (2)

borrowed from Latin apostropha, borrowed from Greek apostrophḗ "turning back or away, (in rhetoric) turning away from a group of hearers to a single person," noun derivative of apostréphein "to turn back, turn away, avert," from apo- apo- + stréphein "to turn, twist" — more at strophe

First Known Use

Noun (1)

1705, in the meaning defined above

Noun (2)

1533, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of apostrophe was in 1533

Dictionary Entries Near apostrophe

Cite this Entry

“Apostrophe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apostrophe. Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
apos·​tro·​phe ə-ˈpäs-trə-(ˌ)fē How to pronounce apostrophe (audio)
: the addressing of an absent person as if present or of a personified thing (as in "O grave, where is thy victory?")


2 of 2 noun
: a mark ' used to show that letters or figures are missing (as in can't for cannot or '76 for 1776) or to show the possessive case (as in Steven's) or the plural of letters or figures (as in "cross your t's")

More from Merriam-Webster on apostrophe

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