When is an apostrophe not an apostrophe?
When it is used incorrectly.
We were discussing proper grammar in my English class this morning and among homonyms, predicates and pronouns, proper punctuation also emerged as a popular grammar problem. We had just finished an in-class writing assignment the class previous, and supposedly due to our pitiful performance, Dr. D decided an overview of appropriate apostrophe placement was required. Apparently, this is an issue that a lot of people (humanities students among them) struggle with.
So, when exactly is an apostrophe appropriate? There are three widely accepted situations in which apostrophe use, in the English language, is proper: contractions, possessives (plural & otherwise), and in colloquial speech. For those that are unsure, a contraction is when you take two words, and join them together to make one word. It is kind of like downsizing at a big company, with less tragic consequences. An example would be the commonly used, “it’s”. (Not to be confused with “its”, thats a whole ‘nother blog post….) The true meaning of “it’s” is actually “it is”, but due to the evolution of the English language those two words were eventually smushed together and shortened into the now perfectly acceptable “it’s”. Other examples would include: you’re (you are), I’ll (I will), they’re (they are) and the list could go on and on.
There are also contractions like “y’all” (you all) but that falls into the category of colloquial speech, or slang. When an apostrophe is used in colloquial speech, it is typically to indicate that there has been information withheld. An example of that could be seen in the use of “the ’90s”, where the “19-” has been removed and replaced with an apostrophe to indicate “the 1990s”. Or in the case of the word “‘nother” that I used earlier in this post, where the “a” has been omitted and replaced with an apostrophe. Another use of the apostrophe in slang terms would be in the rare instance that a plural is being indicated, but because it is a term that is unusual to pluralize an apostrophe shows that the pluralization was intentional; such as you would see in the phrase “Mind your P’s and Q’s”. This use of an apostrophe is not as universally accepted, and is generally accepted based solely on the style of writing. That brings us to the issue of using an apostrophe when indicating possession, plural or otherwise.
We all own things. And while that is fairly easy to prove with speech (that’s MINE!) due to tone and grabbiness, we use the apostrophe to indicate grammatically when something belongs to someone, or something. An example of this use would be, “This is Sarah’s blog.” The blog BELONGS to me, therefore that needs to be indicated with a handy piece of punctuation. BUT, grammatically, human beings are not the only things that can own objects. Objects can take possession of other objects, plants can own things, pets, other animals… You name it, it can own something. In the English language, anyway. Such as, “The table’s legs were rather shaky, a shoddy piece of furniture making on the carpenter’s part.” Pretty simple, right? Where possession CAN get a little tricky is when you want to give a noun that is plural possession. This type of punctuation can look strange and make you feel uncomfortable at first, but I can assure you it is correct. I’ll just jump right into the example, “The kids’ playground.” Kind of weird, right? Basically, “kids” is plural, and to indicate that the playground belongs to them you place an apostrophe on the end of the word, sans another “s” (kids’s looks even stranger, and it is incorrect… DO NOT DO THIS.)
Well, I hope that I managed to clear up any confusion, if any confusion did in fact exist. That is all I have for now!
Until next time, sarah.
“Apostrophe”, www.wikipedia.org, Web. September 18 2012.