Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Murky Depths of the Apostrophe

Since nobody responded to my request for a proof-reader, I thought it was time I brushed up on my own editorial skills. I decided to begin with something very simple which I thought I already had a handle on, namely the Apostrophe. I soon found that things were not as straight forward as I thought with that little multi-tasking beast of a mark. In her hilarious book Eats Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss gets into the murky depths of the Apostrophe where most of us never penetrate. It becomes evident that the apostrophe, poor little thing, has about as many uses as butter has in cooking. My goal is that by writing them down here I will better remember them.

An apostrophe comes before the “s” to indicate a possessive in a singular noun. “The boy’s hat.”

An apostrophe comes after the “s” when the possessor is a regular plural. “The boys’ hats.”

An apostrophe is used to indicate time or quantity: “In one week’s time.”

It indicates the omission of figures in dates or letters in a word (“The summer of ‘68”), in particularly to abbreviate “it is” or “it has”.

It indicates strange, non-standard English: “”’Appen yer’d better ‘ave this key?

It features in Irish names: O’Neill and O’Casey
It indicates the plurals of letters: “How many f’s are there in Fulham?

It indicates the plurals of words: “What are the do’s and don’t’s?
It is placed before a second “s” in the plural of modern names ending in “s”: “Keats’s poems.” (Apparently this rule is very controversial).
It is placed after the “s” in the plural of ancient names ( “Archimedes’ screw”) but not when the name ends in an “iz” sound (“Moses’ tablets”) or when the name happens to be Jesus (“Jesus’ disciples”).

It is placed potentially anywhere at whim for any noun which an institution, town, college, family, company or brands has authorship over.

It is used in the double possessive: “Elton John, a friend of the couple’s…” (Don't ask me to explain what the double possessive is).

In recent years it has been decided that the Apostrophe no longer has to be used in the plurals of abbreviations or dates: “MPs” or “1980s”

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