Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Punctuation: the apostrophe and how to use it

The Life of the Apostrophe


Robert L. Fielding

Hi, I’m an apostrophe – the little punctuation mark that looks like a comma, except I don’t sit down on the line like a comma or a full stop. I stand on the shoulders of the letters next to me – usually an s – as in the boy’s shirt or the man’s hat – and that is my main use – to indicate the possessive case for nouns.

The trouble begins when plural nouns are involved – the boys’ shirts – means the shirts (plural) belonging to the boys (plural). If a name ends with an s, writers have trouble – Dickens’ pen, not Dickens’s pen – the pen belonging to Charles Dickens – only one of him, remember!

Next, they use me to show a letter is missin’ – see, that last word should be missing – the g sometimes goes missing – but never in good English. Still, in regular English, letters do get omitted on purpose – I’m – I am/You’re – You are/It’s – It is – a funny thing here – Its doesn’t have an apostrophe yet it’s a sort of possessive quality about it – Its fur – the fur belonging to it (it = an animal).

I get used to mark other omissions too – like numbers – the class of ’96 – meaning 1996 – be careful here – 90’s or nineties but not ‘90’s – don’t overuse me.

In English, numbers can sometimes become verbs – The manager 75’d my suggestion. – where 75 is a procedure that everyone in the office knows – it’s a kind of shorthand, and plenty of people, mostly Americans, say things like The boss OK’d the plans.

I can be used to add er to an abbreviation – He works for the BBC – he’s a BBC’er – understand?

Last but not least, I can be used to form an abbreviation - M’boro for Middlesbrough!

An apostrophe’s life’s a busy one, isn’t it?
Robert L. Fielding


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