Thursday, June 23, 2016

APOSTROPHES – More Ways to Use (and Misuse) the Apostrophe

Back in September 2014—remember that day?—I promised you another post on the use of the apostrophe. Or as my esteemed Topic Generator calls it, “the misuse of the poor, misunderstood apostrophe.”

So here 'tis. (Hey, you’ve had about 18 months to recover from that lesson.)

Are you ready? Pencil sharpened? Notebook open to a clean page? Ear wax cleaned out? Eyes open and focused? Feet off the desk?

Two more uses of the apostrophe: (1) as a contraction, to show letters left out (on purpose); and (2) to show plurals in certain cases. (As a bonus, I’ve thrown in a couple of Misuses that you might be unaware of.)

If you never put pencil to paper again in this life, you’ll use contractions—mainly in speech, if you’re still speaking to people.
     (A) Some contractions are more easily understood in speech, for example:
     “If you’d’ve let me know, I’d’ve been there to help you.”
     “She shouldn’t’ve tried to do that by herself.”

Set out in non-contraction form, they read as follows:
     “If you would have let me know, I would have been there to help you.”
     “She should not have tried to do that by herself.”

Both sound more formal, even distant, without the contractions. In speech, we can contract quite a bit and get away with it.

          (B) Then there’s the more easily recognized contraction that comes along, even in somewhat formal writing: can’t, won’t, don’t, didn’t, and so on.

I’ve noticed a growing (alarmingly growing, I might say) tendency to ignore the apostrophe in emails and on Facebook. My first comment is this: If your life is so busy that you can’t add one more little key stroke (‘) to a word that needs it, then you might want to consider taking some time off from social media.

My second comment is this: Some words have different meanings when the apostrophe is lost: cant and wont are two examples.

     Cant – affected singsong or whining speech; the private language of the underworld; insincere use of pious words.

     Wont – accustomed, inclined, apt

Why does this bug me? Because I don’t know—for certain—what the writer means. Because the communication that I assumed would take place in the written material has broken down. And because I hate having to do a double-think to puzzle out your meaning if this isn’t for a course that leads to a higher degree.

      (C)   There’s another use of the apostrophe to show something is missing: to mark the omission of the first two digits of a year (Class of ’58) or a period of years (the ‘70s generation).

Okay. That was (1), (A), (B), and (C).

Here’s part (2) – plurals of numbers, letters, and abbreviations.

According to my Diana Hacker resource (I call it the Grammar bible), using an apostrophe to show plurals of numbers (8s), letters (Js), and abbreviations (TVs) is not necessary.

There are two more things to say about apostrophes: Misuses. (NOTE: Do not accept Misuses as a challenge. We have ways of finding out about such things.)

Do not use apostrophes to show plurals of nouns that are not possessive.

     Some student’s are given special parking permits. (Use students, no apostrophe.)

Do not use apostrophes to show possession in pronouns that are already possessive: its, whose, his, hers, ours, yours, and theirs.

Now you have it—the entire enchilada on the apostrophe. Or as much of the enchilada as you’re likely to need in the future.

If you crave further tuition vis-à-vis apostrophes (or anything else grammerish), look up Diana Hacker’s website:
     Grammar exercises>punctuation

She even has exercises you can do.

Hope you come back next week. We’ll have some fun. 

In the meantime, watch those apostrophes!


  1. Great post! I just realized that this may be the reason why I don't enjoy reading dialect--too many apostrophes that seem unnecessary. :)

  2. I agree. Much as I like Mark Twain, it doesn't take long before I'm overwhelmed by the dialect.

  3. I don't like that much dialect, either, but I DO love me a correctly placed apostrophe! :-)