O, apostrophe, O, apostrophe
What would we do without thee?
Your contractions, how they shine!
Your placement is divine!
Two words you do conjoin,
To create one word to conform,
You bend to show possession,
And always make concession,
When deleting a letter or two,
O, what would the English language
Be without you?
Enough of the Ode to the Apostrophe. Let’s take a closer look at this little character.
An apostrophe is used to denote a contraction – the combining of two words – and possession – when something belongs to someone. It is also used from time to time to shorten a word into slang or when letters are deleted from a word.
By far the most confused contraction ever is it’s. This word is a contraction for the two words “it is.” However, it is forever and over being misused.
My second grade teacher, Miss Myrtle, taught us to read the entire sentence in which the word appears. If you can read the sentence with “it is” and it makes sense, use the apostrophe.
For example: “It’s a foregone conclusion….” Read the sentence as “It is a foregone conclusion…” It makes sense so the apostrophe is in the right place. This is a contraction and requires an apostrophe.
If the sentence read thusly does not make sense, there is no apostrophe.
For instance: “The bird flew to its nest.” Read as, “The bird flew to it is nest.” This doesn’t make sense so there is no apostrophe. This is the possessive form and does not require an apostrophe.
When letters are intentionally deleted from a word, there should be an apostrophe. If you want to shorten the word chocolate to choc’late, the apostrophe is placed where the letter would normally be.
“Them” and “because” are popular words to shorten. Times like this, the apostrophe ends up turned backwards. Technically, it is incorrect. Yet I have seen the backwards apostrophe in television commercials, magazine ads, and books published by big name publishing houses. And, of course, the Internet is littered with backwards apostrophes.
There is a simple way to make sure the apostrophe is correct in this instance. When you shorten the word “them” to ’em, and you want that apostrophe facing the correct way, you first type a letter, any letter, then type the apostrophe and the rest of the word. Go back and delete that first letter and voila! your apostrophe is turned the correct way. (And the word is pronounced vwahla and not wahla as I have heard it often mispronounced. I’m sure the French would appreciate the correct pronunciation).
It’s difficult to tell when “smart quotes” are being used but try it the next time you use a word in this way.
I will admit I am as guilty as anyone else for misplacing an apostrophe on occasion. But I strive to make certain I’m putting it in its place.
Granted, it’s a nit-picky little thing to worry about. But the apostrophe is one of those details writers need to pay attention to. Because readers pay attention.