apostrophe

apostrophe

[uh-pos-truh-fee]
apostrophe: see punctuation; abbreviation.
apostrophe, figure of speech in which an absent person, a personified inanimate being, or an abstraction is addressed as though present. The term is derived from a Greek word meaning "a turning away," and this sense is maintained when a narrative or dramatic thread is broken in order to digress by speaking directly to someone not there, e.g., "Envy, be silent and attend!"—Alexander Pope, "On a Certain Lady at Court."
The apostrophe  or  ' ) is a punctuation mark and, sometimes, a diacritic mark, in languages written in the Latin alphabet. In English it has two main functions: it marks omissions, and it assists in marking the possessives of all nouns and many pronouns. (In strictly limited cases, it is allowed to assist in marking plurals, but most authorities now disapprove of such usage; see below.) According to the OED, the word comes ultimately from Greek ἡ ἀπόστροφος [προσῳδία] (hē apóstrophos [prosōidía], the [accent of] "turning away", or elision), through Latin and French.

The apostrophe is different from the closing single quotation mark (usually rendered identically but serving a quite different purpose), and from the similar-looking prime (which is used to indicate measurement in feet or arcminutes, and for various mathematical purposes).

English language usage

Possessive apostrophe

An apostrophe is used to indicate possession.

  • For most singular nouns the ending 's is added; e.g., the cat's whiskers.
  • When the noun is a normal plural, with an added s, no extra s is added in the possessive, so pens' lids (where there is more than one pen) is correct rather than pens's lids. If the plural is not one that is formed by adding s, add an s for the possessive, after the apostrophe: children's hats, women's hairdresser, some people's eyes (but compare some peoples' recent emergence into nationhood, where peoples is meant as the plural of the singular people). These principles are universally accepted.
  • If a singular noun ends with an /s/ or a /z/ sound (spelled with -s, -se, -z, -ce, for example), practice varies as to whether to add 's or the apostrophe alone. (For discussion on this and the following points, see below.) In general, a good practice is to follow whichever spoken form is judged better: the boss's shoes, Mrs Jones' hat (or Mrs Jones's hat, if that spoken form is preferred). In many cases, both spoken and written forms differ between writers.
  • Compound nouns have their singular possessives formed with an apostrophe and an added s, in accordance with the rules given above: the Attorney-General's husband; the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports' prerogative; this Minister for Justice's intervention; her father-in-law's new wife. In those examples, the plurals are formed with an s that does not occur at the end: e.g., Attorneys-General. A problem therefore arises with the possessive plurals of these compounds. Sources that rule on the matter appear to favour the following forms, in which there is both an s added to form the plural, and a separate s added for the possessive: the Attorneys-General's husbands; successive Ministers for Justice's interventions; their fathers-in-law's new wives. Because these constructions stretch the resources of punctuation beyond comfort, in practice they are normally reworded: interventions by successive Ministers for Justice.
  • An apostrophe is used in time and money references, among others, in constructions such as one hour's respite, two weeks' holiday, a dollar's worth, five pounds' worth. Although it may not be immediately obvious, this is an ordinary possessive use. For example, one hour's respite means a respite of one hour (exactly as the cat's whiskers means the whiskers of the cat).
  • No apostrophe is used in the following possessive pronouns and adjectives: yours, his, hers, ours, its, theirs, and whose. (Many people wrongly use it's for the possessive of it, but authorities are unanimous that it's can only be a contraction of it is or it has.) All other possessive pronouns ending in s do take an apostrophe: one's; everyone's; somebody's, nobody else's, etc. With plural forms, the apostrophe follows the s, as with nouns: the others' husbands (but compare They all looked at each other's husbands, in which both each and other are singular).

To illustrate that possessive apostrophes matter, and that their usage affects the meaning of written English, consider these four phrases (listed in Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct), each of which has a meaning distinct from the others:

  • My sister's friend's investments (the investments belonging to a friend of my sister)
  • My sister's friends' investments (the investments belonging to several friends of my sister)
  • My sisters' friend's investments (the investments belonging to a friend of several of my sisters)
  • My sisters' friends' investments (the investments belonging to several friends of several of my sisters)

Kingsley Amis, on being challenged to produce a sentence whose meaning depended on a possessive apostrophe, came up with:

  • Those things over there are my husband's. (Those things over there belong to my husband.)
  • Those things over there are my husbands. (I'm married to those men over there.)

Origins

The use of the apostrophe to mark the English possessive ultimately derives from the Old English genitive case, indicating possession; this often ended in the letters -es, which evolved into a simple s for the possessive ending. An apostrophe was later added to mark the omitted e, a practice that came into general use in the 17th century. The 's ending is sometimes called the Saxon genitive, although linguists now generally consider it a clitic rather than a case ending.

Singular nouns ending with an "s" or "z" sound

This subsection deals with singular nouns pronounced with a sibilant sound at the end: /s/ or /z/. The spelling of these ends with -s, -se, -z, -ze, or -ce. Traditionally it was more common to require and many respected sources still do require that practically all singular nouns, including those ending with a sibilant sound, have possessive forms with an extra s after the apostrophe. Examples include the Modern Language Association, The Elements of Style, and The Economist. Such sources would demand possessive singulars like these: Senator Jones's umbrella; Mephistopheles's cat. However, many modern writers omit the extra s. Some respected style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style recommend the traditional practice but say that both are correct. Rules that modify or extend this principle have included the following:

  • If the singular possessive is difficult or awkward to pronounce with an added sibilant, do not add an extra s; these exceptions are supported by The Guardian, Emory University's writing center, and The American Heritage Book of English Usage. Such sources permit possessive singulars like these: Socrates' later suggestion; James's house, or James' house, depending on which pronunciation is intended.
  • Classical, biblical, and similar names ending in a sibilant, especially if they are polysyllabic, do not take an added s in the possessive; among sources giving exceptions of this kind are The Times and The Elements of Style, which make general stipulations, and Vanderbilt University, which mentions only Moses and Jesus. As a particular case, Jesus'   is very commonly written instead of Jesus's—even by people who would otherwise add 's in, for example, James's or Chris's. Jesus'   is referred to as "an accepted liturgical archaism" in Hart's Rules.

Similar examples of notable names ending in an s that are often given a possessive apostrophe with no additional s include Dickens and Williams. There is often a policy of leaving off the additional s on any such name, but this can prove problematic when specific names are contradictory (for example, St James' Park in Newcastle [the football ground] and the area of St. James's Park in London). For more details on practice with geographic names, see the relevant section below.

Some people like to reflect standard spoken practice in cases like these with sake: for convenience' sake, for goodness' sake, for appearance' sake, for compromise' sake, for peace' sake, etc. This punctuation is preferred in major style guides. Others prefer to add 's: for convenience's sake. Still others prefer to omit the apostrophe when there is an s sound before sake: for morality's sake, but for convenience sake.

Nouns ending with silent "s", "x", or "z"

The English possessive of French nouns ending in a silent s, x, or z is rendered differently by different authorities. Some prefer Descartes' and Dumas', while others insist on Descartes's and Dumas's. Certainly a sibilant is pronounced in these cases; the theoretical question is whether the existing final letter is sounded, or whether s needs to be added. Similar examples with x or z: Sauce Périgueux's main ingredient is truffle; His pince-nez's loss went unnoticed; in both of these some writers might omit the added s. The same principles and residual uncertainties apply with "naturalised" English words, like Arkansas and Illinois. and the Arkansas's Apostrophe Act came into law in March 2007. There are no penalties for ignoring it.

For possessive plurals of words ending in silent x, z, or s, the few authorities that address the issue at all call for an added s, and require that the apostrophe precede the s: The Loucheux's homeland is in the Yukon; Compare the two Dumas's literary achievements. As usual in punctuation, the best advice is to respect soundly established practice, and beyond that to strive for simplicity, logic, and especially consistency.

Possessives in geographic names

United States place names generally do not use the possessive apostrophe. The United States Board on Geographic Names, which has responsibility for formal naming of municipalities and geographic features, has deprecated the use of possessive apostrophes since 1890. Only five names of natural features in the U.S. are officially spelled with a genitive apostrophe (one example being Martha's Vineyard). On the other hand, Britain has Bishop's Stortford, Bishop's Castle and King's Lynn (but St Albans, St Andrews and St Helens) and, while Newcastle United play at St James' Park, and Exeter City at St James Park, London has a St James's Park (this whole area of London is named after St James's Church, Piccadilly). The special circumstances of the latter case may be this: the customary pronunciation of this place name is reflected in the addition of an extra -s; since usage is firmly against a doubling of the final -s without an apostrophe, this place name has an apostrophe. This could be regarded as an example of a double genitive: it refers to the park of the church of St James. None of this detracts from the fact that omission of the apostrophe in geographical names is becoming a clear standard in most English-speaking countries, including Australia. Practice in Britain and Canada is not so uniform.

Possessives in business names

Where a business name is based on a family name, it may or may not take an apostrophe (compare Sainsbury's and Harrods), though in recent times there has been an increasing tendency to drop the apostrophe. Names based on a first name are more likely to take an apostrophe (Joe's Crab Shack). A small activist group called the Apostrophe Protection Society has campaigned for large retailers such as Harrods, Currys and Selfridges to reinstate their missing punctuation. A spokesperson for Barclays PLC stated, "It has just disappeared over the years. Barclays is no longer associated with the family name."

Apostrophe showing omission

An apostrophe is commonly used to indicate omitted characters:

  • It is used in contractions, such as can't from cannot, it's from it is or it has, and I'll from I will or I shall.
  • It is used in abbreviations, as gov't for government, or '70s for 1970s. In modern usage, apostrophes are generally omitted when letters are removed from the start of a word. For example, it is not common to write 'bus (for omnibus), 'phone (telephone), 'net (Internet). However, if the shortening is unusual, dialectal or archaic, the apostrophe may still be used to mark it (e.g., 'bout for about, 'less for unless, 'twas for it was). Sometimes a misunderstanding of the original form of a word results in an incorrect contraction. A common example: 'til for until, though till is in fact the original form, and until is derived from it.
    • The spelling fo'c's'le, contracted from the nautical term forecastle, is notable for having three apostrophes. The spelling bo's'n's (from boatswain's), as in Bo's'n's Mate, also has three apostrophes, two showing omission and one possession. The fo'c's'le's timbers is also possible, and has four apostrophes in one word.
  • It is sometimes used when the normal form of an inflection seems awkward or unnatural; for example, KO'd rather than KOed (where KO is used as a verb meaning "to knock out"), or n'th (an unspecified ordinal) rather than nth.
  • In certain colloquial contexts an apostrophe's function as possessive or contractive can depend on other punctuation.
    • We rehearsed for Friday's opening night. (We rehearsed for the opening night on Friday.)
    • We rehearsed, for Friday's opening night. (We rehearsed because Friday is opening night.)
  • Eye dialects use apostrophes in creating the effect of a non-standard pronunciation.

Use in forming certain plurals

An apostrophe is used by some writers to form a plural for abbreviations, acronyms, and symbols where adding just s rather than 's may leave things ambiguous or inelegant. While British English formerly endorsed the use of such apostrophes after numbers and dates, this usage has now largely been superseded. Some specific cases:

  • It is generally acceptable to use apostrophes to show plurals of single lower-case letters, such as be sure to dot your i's and cross your t's. Some style guides would prefer to use a change of font: dot your is and cross your ts. Upper case letters need no apostrophe when there is no risk of misreading: I got three As in my exams, except possibly at the start of a sentence: A's are the highest marks achievable in these exams.
  • For groups of years, the apostrophe at the end cannot be regarded as necessary, since there is no possibility of misreading. For this reason, most authorities prefer 1960s to 1960's (although the latter is noted by at least one source as acceptable in American usage), and 90s or '90s to 90's or '90's.
  • The apostrophe is sometimes used in forming the plural of numbers (for example, 1000's of years); however, as with groups of years, it is unnecessary: there is no possibility of misreading. Most sources are against this usage.
  • The apostrophe is often used in plurals of symbols. Again, since there can be no misreading, this is also regarded as wrong. That page has too many &s and #s on it.
  • Finally, a few sources accept its use in an alternative spelling of the plurals of a very few short words, such as do, ex, yes, no, which become do's, ex's, etc. In each case, dos, exes, yeses (or yesses) and noes would be preferred by most authorities. Nevertheless, many writers are still inclined to use such an apostrophe when the word is thought to look awkward or unusual without one.

Use in non-English names

  • Irish surnames often contain an apostrophe after an O, for example O'Reilly. This arose from a rendering of the Irish Ó.
  • Some Scottish and Irish surnames use an apostrophe after an M, for example M'Gregor. The apostrophe here may be seen as marking a contraction where the prefix Mc or Mac would normally appear. (In earlier and meticulous current usage, the symbol is actually – a kind of reversed apostrophe that is sometimes called a turned comma, which eventually came to be written as the letter c, whose shape is similar.)
  • French and Italian surnames sometimes contain apostrophes, e.g. D'Angelo.
  • In science fiction, the apostrophe is often used in alien names, sometimes to indicate a glottal stop but also sometimes simply for decoration.
  • Galician restaurants in Madrid in Páginas Amarillas sometimes use ' in their names instead of the standard article O ("The").

Non-standard English use

Incorrect use of the apostrophe (according to the generally accepted rules) is endemic, and the perceived abuse of the punctuation mark generates heated debate. The British founder of The Apostrophe Protection Society earned a 2001 Ig Nobel prize for "efforts to protect, promote and defend the differences between plural and possessive". A 2004 report by OCR, a British examination board, stated "The inaccurate use of the apostrophe is so widespread as to be almost universal".

Misused apostrophes are often referred to as "greengrocers' apostrophes", "rogue apostrophes" or "idiot's apostrophes" (a literal translation of the German word Deppenapostroph which criticises the misapplication of apostrophes (Denglisch)).

Greengrocers' apostrophes

Apostrophes used incorrectly to form plurals are known as greengrocers' apostrophes (or grocers' apostrophes, or sometimes humorously greengrocers apostrophe's). The practice comes from the identical sound of the plural and possessive forms of most English nouns. It is often considered a form of hypercorrection coming from a widespread ignorance of the proper use of the apostrophe or of punctuation in general. Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, points out that before the 19th century, it was standard orthography to use the apostrophe to form a plural of a foreign-sounding word that ended in a vowel (e.g., banana's, folio's, logo's, quarto's, pasta's, ouzo's) to clarify pronunciation. Truss says this usage is no longer considered proper in formal writing.

It is believed that the term was coined in the middle of the 20th century by a teacher of languages working in Liverpool, at a time when such mistakes were common in the handwritten signs and advertisements of greengrocers, e.g., Apple's 1/- a pound, orange's 1/6d a pound. Some have argued that its use in mass communication by employees of well-known companies has led to the less grammatically able assuming it to be correct and adopting the habit themselves.

The same error is sometimes made by non-native speakers of English, and this hyperforeignism has been formalised in some pseudo-anglicisms. For example, the French word pin's (from English pin) is used (with the apostrophe in both singular and plural) for collectable lapel pins. Similarly, there is an Andorran football club called FC Rànger's (after such British clubs as Rangers F.C.) and a Japanese pop punk band called the Titan Go King's.

The widespread use of apostrophes before the s of plural nouns has led some to believe that an apostrophe is also needed before the s of the third-person present tense of a verb. Thus, he take's, it begin's etc.

While the greengrocers' apostrophe is more likely to be found in small retail businesses, the UK's largest supermarket chain, Tesco, has a habit of omitting the mark where it should be included. Its in-store signage advertises (among other items) mens magazines, girls toys, kids books and womens shoes. The author Bill Bryson lambasts Tesco for this reason in his book Troublesome Words, stating that "the mistake is inexcusable and those who make it are linguistic Neanderthals".

Advocates of greater or lesser use

George Bernard Shaw, a proponent of English spelling reform on phonetic principles, argued that the apostrophe was mostly redundant. He did not use it for spelling cant or hes when writing Pygmalion. He did however allow I'm and it's. Lewis Carroll made greater use of apostrophes, and frequently used ca'n't and sha'n't. Neither author's use has become widespread.

Other misuses

The British pop group Hear'Say famously made unconventional use of an apostrophe in its name. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Truss comments that "the naming of Hear'Say in 2001 was [...] a significant milestone on the road to punctuation anarchy".

A misconception of a misused apostrophe in popular culture is the Liverpudlian rock band The La's, whose misleading apostrophe is often thought to be a careless mistake and that thus it should be omitted but actually is present to denote a missing letter. The band name comes from the Scouse slang for "The Lads".

Other languages

As a mark of elision

In many languages, especially European languages, the apostrophe is used to indicate the elision of one or more sounds, as in English. For example:

  • In Afrikaans the apostrophe is used to show that letters have been omitted from words. The most common use is in the indefinite article 'n which is a contraction of een meaning 'one' (the number). As the initial 'e' is omitted and cannot be capitalised, if a sentence begins with O'n the second word in the sentence is capitalised. For example: "'n Pen is in my hand.", "A pen is in my hand."
  • In Danish, apostrophes are sometimes seen on commercial materials. Thus, one might commonly see Ta' mig med ("Take me with [you]") next to a stand with advertisement leaflets; that would be written Tag mig med in standard orthography. As in German, the apostrophe must not be used to indicate the possessive, except when there is already an s present in the base form, as in Lukas' bog.
  • In the Dutch language, the apostrophe is again used to indicate omitted characters. For example, the indefinite article een can be shortened to 'n, and the definite article het shortened to 't. When this happens with the first word of a sentence, only the second word of the sentence is capitalised. In general, this way of using the apostrophe is considered non-standard, except for 's morgens, 's middags, 's avonds, 's nachts (des morgens/middags/avonds/nachts: at morning/afternoon/evening/night). In addition, the apostrophe is used for plurals where the singulars end with certain vowels, e.g. foto's, taxi's, and for the genitive of proper names ending with these vowels, e.g. Anna's, Otto's. These are in fact elided vowels; use of the apostrophe prevents spellings like fotoos and Annaas.
  • In French phrases such as coup d'état and maître d'hôtel (the latter often shortened to maître d', when used by English speakers), the vowel in the preposition de ("of") is elided because the word which follows it also starts with a vowel (or a mute h). Similarly, French has l'église for la église ("the church"), qu'il for que il ("that he"), and so on. Feminine singular possessive adjectives do not undergo elision, but change to the masculine form instead: ma preceding église becomes mon église ("my church"). Analogous constructions are also common in Italian and Catalan.
  • German usage is very similar: an apostrophe is used almost exclusively to indicate omitted letters. It must not be used for plurals or most of the possessive forms (Max' Vater being an exception, for instance), both of which usages are widespread, but deemed wrong. The German equivalent of greengrocers' apostrophes would be the derogatory Deppenapostroph (idiots' apostrophe). (See article Apostrophitis in the German Wikipedia.)
  • The Fundamento de Esperanto limits the elision mark to the article ' (from la) and singular nominative nouns (' from koro, "heart"). This is mostly limited to poetry. Non-standard l' al (from danke al, "thanks to") and kor' (from de la, "of the") are nonetheless frequent. In-word elision is usually marked with a hyphen as in D-ro (from doktoro, Dr). Some early guides used and advocated the use of apostrophes in between word parts, to aid recognition of compound words as in dank', "guitarist".
  • Initialisms in Hebrew are denoted with a geresh, often typed as an apostrophe.
  • In Luganda, when a word ending with a vowel is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, the final vowel of the first word is elided and the initial vowel of the second word lengthened in compensation. When the first word is a monosyllable this elision is represented in the orthography with an apostrophe: taata w'abaana 'the father of the children' (wa 'of' becomes w' ); y'ani? 'who is it?' (ye 'who' becomes y' ). But the final vowel of a polysyllable is always spelt out in writing, even if it's elided in speech: omusajja oyo 'this man' (not *omusajj'oyo, because omusajja 'man' is a polysyllable).

To separate morphemes

Some languages use the apostrophe to separate the root of a word from its affixes, especially if the root is a foreign, unassimilated word.

  • In Danish and Norwegian, an apostrophe is sometimes used to join the enclitic definite article to words of foreign origin, or other words which would otherwise look awkward. Thus, one would write IP'en to mean "the IP address". There is some variation in what is considered "awkward enough" to warrant an apostrophe; for instance, long-established words such as firma (company) or niveau (level) might be written firma'et and niveau'et, but will generally be seen without an apostrophe.
  • In Finnish, apostrophes are used in the declension of foreign names or loan words that end in a consonant when written but are pronounced with a vowel ending, e.g. show'ssa (in a show) or Bordeaux'hun (to Bordeaux) - it is worth noting though that author and controversialist Pentti Saarikoski strenuously railed against this practise. Additionally for Finnish as well as Swedish, one may note that there is a closely related type of colon usage.
  • In Estonian, apostrophes can be used in the declension of some foreign names to separate the stem from any declension endings; e.g., Monet' or Monet'sse for the genitive case and illative case, respectively, for the name of the famous painter Monet.
  • In Polish, the apostrophe is used exclusively for marking inflections of words and word-like elements (e.g. acronyms) whose spelling conflicts with the normal rules that govern which inflection form to choose. This mainly affects foreign words and names. Thus, for instance, one would write Kampania Ala Gore'a for "Al Gore's campaign". In this example, Ala is spelt without an apostrophe, as its spelling and pronunciation fit into normal Polish rules. Gore'a, however, needs it, as e disappears from the pronunciation, changing its inflection pattern. There is a widespread misunderstanding of this rule, which would rather have apostrophe after all foreign words, regardless of their pronunciation, thus rendering the above into (incorrect) Kampania Al'a Gore'a. This effect is somewhat akin to the greengrocers' apostrophes (see above).
  • In Turkish, proper nouns are capitalized and an apostrophe is inserted between the noun and any following suffix, e.g. New York'da, "in New York", in contrast with okulda, "in the school".

As a mark of palatalization

Some languages and transliteration systems use the apostrophe to mark the presence, or the lack of palatalization.

  • In the Belarusian and Ukrainian languages, the apostrophe is used between a consonant and a following “soft” (iotified) vowel (Be. е, ё, ю, я; Uk. є, ї, ю, я) to indicate that no palatalization of the preceding consonant takes place, and the vowel is pronounced in the same way as at the beginning of the word.
  • In Russian and some derived alphabets the same function is served by the hard sign (ъ, formerly called yer). But the apostrophe saw some use as a substitute after 1918, when Soviet authorities enforced an orthographic reform by confiscating type bearing that “letter parasite” from stubborn printing houses in Petrograd.
  • In some Latin transliterations of the Cyrillic alphabet (of Belarusian, Russian, or Ukrainian language), the apostrophe is used to replace the soft sign (ь, indicating palatalization of the preceding consonant), e.g., Русь is transliterated Rus' according to the BGN/PCGN system.

Confusingly, some of these transliteration schemes use a double apostrophe ( ˮ ) to represent the apostrophe in Ukrainian and Belarusian text, e.g. Ukrainian слов’янське (‘Slavic’) is transliterated as slovˮyans’ke.

  • Some Karelian orthographies use an apostrophe to indicate palatalization, e.g. n'evvuo "to give advice", d'uuri "just (like)", el'vüttiä "to revive".

As a glottal stop

Other languages and transliteration systems use the apostrophe as a letter, denoting the glottal stop.

The apostrophe represents sounds similar to the glottal stop in the Turkic languages and in romanizations of Arabic. Sometimes this function is performed by the opening single quotation mark.

Other uses

  • In the Czech and Slovak languages, common typographic rendering (at least for some typefaces) of caron over lowercase t, d, l, and uppercase L consonants (ď, ť, ľ, Ľ) looks a lot like an apostrophe, but it is incorrect to use apostrophe instead (compare previous example with incorrect d', t', l', L' or d', t', l', L'). In Slovak, there is also l with acute accent (ĺ, Ĺ). Apostrophe is correctly used only to indicate elision in certain words (tys' as an abbreviated form of ty si in Slovak, or pad' for padl in Czech), however, these elisions are restricted to poetry. An apostrophe is also used before a two-digit year number (to indicate the omission of the first two digits), i.e. '87.
  • In Finnish, one of the consonant gradation patterns is the change of a 'k' into a hiatus, e.g. keko → keon "a pile → pile's". This hiatus has to be indicated in spelling with an apostrophe if a long vowel or a diphthong would be immediately followed by the final vowel, e.g. ruoko → ruo'on, vaaka → vaa'an. (This is in contrast to compound words, where the same problem is solved with a hyphen, e.g. maa-ala "land area".) The same meaning for an apostrophe, a hiatus, is used in poetry to indicate contractions, e.g. miss' on for missä on "where is".
  • In the Breton language, the combination c'h is used for the sound /x/ as English Loch Ness whereas ch denotes the sound /ʃ/ as in French or as in English chic or Chicago.
  • In Italian, a final apostrophe after a vowel is sometimes (uppercase, lack of accented characters) a substitute for a grave accent over the vowel: del' instead of Niccolò. This only applies to machine/computer writing, where using a foreign or crippled keyboard can make it unavoidable.
  • In Swahili, an apostrophe after ng says that the g-sound after the /ŋ/ sound is not audible, that is, that the ng is pronounced as in English singer, not as in English finger.
  • In Luganda, ng' (pronounced [ŋ]) is used in place of ŋ on keyboards where the latter character is not available. The apostrophe distinguishes it from the letter combination ng (pronounced [ŋɡ]). Compare this with the Swahili usage above.
  • In Jèrriais, one of the uses of the apostrophe is to mark gemination, or consonant length. For example, t't represents /tː/, s's /sː/, n'n /nː/, th'th /ðː/, and ch'ch /ʃː/ (as contrasted to /t/, /s/, /n/, /ð/, and /ʃ/).
  • In the Hànyǔ Pīnyīn system of romanization for Standard Mandarin (the main Chinese language), the apostrophe is sometimes used to separate syllables in a word where ambiguity could arise. Example: the standard romanization for the name of the city Xi'an includes an apostrophe to distinguish it from a single-syllable word xian.
  • In some systems of romanization for the Japanese language, the apostrophe is used between moras in ambiguous situations, to differentiate between, for example n + a, and na. (This resembles the practice in Hànyǔ Pīnyīn mentioned above.)
  • In Hebrew, the apostrophe is used to modify letters to make sounds that Hebrew has no letters for. Sounds such as j, th, and ch are made from ג, ת, and צ with an apostrophe (also called a geresh, or informally "chupchik"). Thus, the name Jarred can be spelled ג'רד in Hebrew.
  • In the new Uzbek Latin alphabet adopted in 2000, the apostrophe serves as a diacritical mark to distinguish different phonemes written with the same letter: it differentiates o' (corresponding to Cyrillic ў) from o, and g' (Cyrillic ғ) from g. This avoids the use of special characters, allowing Uzbek to be typed with ease in ordinary ASCII on any Latin keyboard. In addition, a postvocalic apostrophe in Uzbek represents the glottal stop phoneme derived from Arabic hamzah or ‘ayn, replacing Cyrillic ъ.
  • In Yorkshire dialect, the apostrophe is used to represent 'the' which is contracted to a glottal T sound. Most users will write, "In t'barn" (in the barn) "on t'step" (on the step) and those unfamiliar with Yorkshire speech will often make it sound, quite wrongly, like "Inter barn" and "Onter step". A more accurate rendition might be "In't barn" and "On't step" though even this does not truly convey correct Yorkshire pronunciation.

Typographic form

The form of the apostrophe originates in manuscript writing, as a point with a downwards tail curving clockwise. This form was inherited by the typographic (or typeset) apostrophe (  ), also called the curly apostrophe. Later sans-serif typefaces had stylized apostrophes with a more geometric or simplified form, but usually retaining the same directional bias as a closing quotation mark.

With the invention of the typewriter, a "neutral" quotation mark form ( ' ) was created to economize on the keyboard, by using a single key to represent the apostrophe, both opening and closing single quotation marks, and single primes. This is known as the typewriter apostrophe or vertical apostrophe.

Computer keyboards

Although they are so common in writing, typographic apostrophes (  ) are surprisingly difficult to type on a computer. The typographic apostrophe does not have its own key on standard computer keyboards. Outside the world of professional typesetting and graphic design, the majority of people have no idea how to type them, instead using the typewriter apostrophe ( ' ). However, because these are now often “transparently” converted to typographic apostrophes by desktop publishing software (see below), the typographic apostrophe often appears in documents produced by non-professionals.

The typographic apostrophe has always been considered tolerable on Web pages because of the egalitarian nature of Web publishing and the low resolution of computer monitors in comparison to print. More recently, the correct use of the typographic apostrophe is becoming more common on the Web due to the wide adoption of the Unicode text encoding standard, near-universal web browser support, higher-resolution displays, and advanced anti-aliasing of text in modern operating systems. With the spread of Unicode support in computer operating systems and Internet software, the typographic apostrophe can be used nearly anywhere. Nevertheless, the tradition of using the typewriter apostrophe continues in most situations: the majority of English Wikipedia articles use it.

How to type quotation marks and apostrophes on a computer
  Macintosh keyboard Windows keyboard
Single opening    Option-[ Hold Alt while typing 0145 on the number pad
Single closing (apostrophe)    Option-Shift-[ Hold Alt while typing 0146 on the number pad
Double opening    Option-] Hold Alt while typing 0147 on the number pad
Double closing    Option-Shift-] Hold Alt while typing 0148 on the number pad

Smart Quotes

To make typographic apostrophes easier to enter, publishing software often converts typewriter apostrophes to typographic apostrophes during text entry (with or without the user being aware of it). A similar facility may be offered on web servers after submitting text in a form field, e.g. on weblogs or free encyclopedias. This is known as the smart quotes feature; apostrophes and quotation marks that are not automatically altered by computer programs are known as dumb quotes.

Such conversion is not always done in accordance with the standards for character sets and encodings. Additionally, many such software programs incorrectly convert a leading apostrophe to an opening quotation mark (e.g., in abbreviations of years: 29 rather than the correct 29 for 2029). A quick way to get the correct result in Microsoft Word is to type two apostrophes (sometimes using a space as well, as required), and then simply delete the first. Smart quote features also often fail to recognise situations when a prime rather than an apostrophe is needed; for example, incorrectly rendering the latitude 49° 53′ 08″ as 49° 53 08.

Typewriter apostrophe and ASCII encoding

The typewriter apostrophe ( ' ) was inherited by computer keyboards, and is the only apostrophe character available in the (7-bit) ASCII character encoding, which is the original basis for the computer representation of the Latin alphabet.

As such, it is a highly overloaded character. In ASCII, it represents a right single quotation mark, left single quotation mark, apostrophe, vertical line or prime (punctuation marks), or an apostrophe modifier or acute accent (modifier letters). (The separate ASCII grave accent ( ` ), intended as a modifier and assigned its own key on many keyboards, has sometimes found a non-standard role as a single opening quote.)

Typographic apostrophe and 8-bit encodings

Support for the typographic apostrophe (  ) was introduced in a variety of 8-bit character encodings, such as the Apple Macintosh operating system's Mac Roman character set (in 1984), and later in the CP1252 encoding of Microsoft Windows.

Older 8-bit character encodings, like Windows CP1252, Mac Roman or ISO-8859-1, universally support the typewriter quote in the same position, 39, inherited from ASCII (as does Unicode; see below). However, most of them place the typographic apostrophe in different positions. ISO-8859-1, a common encoding used for web pages, omits the typographic apostrophe altogether.

Microsoft Windows CP1252 (sometimes incorrectly called ANSI or ISO-Latin) is a duplicate of ISO-8859-1, with 27 additional characters in the place of control characters (in the range from 128 to 159). Microsoft software usually treats ISO-8859-1 as if it were CP1252. The wide adoption of Microsoft's web browser and web server has forced many other software makers to adopt this as a de facto convention – in some cases contravening established standards unnecessarily (e.g., some applications use CP1252 character values in HTML numeric references, where Unicode values are required, and would be sufficient for interoperation with MS software). Consequently, the typographic apostrophe and several other characters are handled inconsistently by web browsers and other software, and can cause interoperation problems.

Unicode

There are three types of apostrophe character in Unicode:

  • gitar'ist'o ) Vertical typewriter apostrophe (Unicode name apostrophe or apostrophe-quote), U+0027, inherited from ASCII.
  •  ) Punctuation apostrophe (or right single quotation mark; single comma quotation mark), U+2019. Serves as both an apostrophe and closing single quotation mark. This is the preferred character to use for apostrophe according to the Unicode standard.
  • ʼ ) Letter apostrophe (or modifier letter apostrophe), U+02BC. This is preferred when the apostrophe is not considered punctuation which separates letters, but a letter in its own right. Examples occur in the Cyrillic Azerbaijani alphabet, or in some transliterations such as the transliterated Arabic glottal stop, hamza, or transliterated Cyrillic soft sign. (The Hawaiian glottal stop, the okina, has its own Unicode character at U+02BB.) As the letter apostrophe is seldom used in practice, the Unicode standard cautions that one should never assume text is coded thus. The letter apostrophe is rendered identically to the punctuation apostrophe in the Unicode code charts.

The Nenets language has single and double letter apostrophes:

  • ( ˮ ) Double letter apostrophe (Unicode name modifier letter double apostrophe), U+02EE.

See also

References

Bibliography

External links

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