Do you march fearlessly in the face of an apostrophe or do you quiver, hesitantly scrubbing that little mark in a blank space, or clicking at the keyboard like it will explode? Fear not….for help is here! The apostrophe is one aspect of the English language that causes a great deal of argument. Some people love to police the use of the apostrophe; they become so incensed and join groups like the one on Facebook called ‘Correctly Placed Apostrophes’ (I couldn’t possibly tell you how I know this!). And other people just, well, use the apostrophe….anywhere. For some, they know that an apostrophe is important but they are not confident with regard its usage. The apostrophe has had a chequered history since its introduction to the English language several centuries ago. And in recent times, it has been dropped by councils and signwriters in the names of streets, shops and banks (Lloyds, Barclays). Where there is no confusion about meaning then this is surely not important. However, a misplaced apostrophe can sometimes cause great confusion and it is for this reason that it is still in use. Understanding why we use an apostrophe may be the key to ‘getting it right’! As with many things in adult life, we need to intellectualise information; frequently, in our early school life, we may have had an explanation about key features of English which we then used in a test/practise scenario. But we left school without a real understanding. So. Help is here:
An apostrophe is used to indicate a missing letter or letters in a contraction. cannot→can’t do not →don’t it is → it’s. This only has an apostrophe if it contracts the word ‘is’. Confusion arises over the word ‘its’ when it is used to indicate possession eg the dog ate its bone – the its in this sentence would not make sense to read: the dog ate it is bone. That is a useful check when uncertainty arises! you are → you’re. You’re welcome to join us – you are welcome to join us. Similarly to the above case for its: ask yourself what you are writing. The sentence: this is your bone would not make sense if you wrote: this is you are bone. 2. Apostrophes are used to denote possession
PLURALS DO NOT HAVE APOSTROPHES: the dogs (more than one dog) – no apostrophe needed: I like dogs. But if you are talking about one or more things which belong to the dogs: the dog’s dinner (one dog and dinner belonging to him): A meaning without an apostrophe: The dinner, which had been given to the dog, smelt good. And with it: The dog’s dinner smelt good. the dogs’ dinner (many dogs and dinner belonging to them) A meaning without an apostrophe: The dinner, which had been given to the many dogs, smelt good. And with it: The dogs’ dinner smelt good.
3. words ending in -s already
Particular difficulties come from words which already end in an -s and there is mixed advice on this area. Let’s take the name James. If he owns something, traditionally, English grammar would suggest that James’ pen (with the apostrophe after the -s is correct) However, style guides are now suggesting that the apostrophe supports an understanding of pronunciation. So James’s pen. But this does become difficult with certain words where there are a lot of -s sounds such as in Jesus’s disciples. So the first example of James’ pen is the more acceptable one but neither is wrong. And finally, can you spot the mistake in the youtube video? References: Crystal, D. 2000. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge Univerity Press http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/a.html#apostrophe