(For the rhetorical term, see apostrophe [figure of speech].)
Apostrophe Exercises and Quizzes:
- Apostrophe Exercise: Combining Sentences With Contractions
- Apostrophe Exercise: Combining Sentences With Possessive Nouns
- The Apostrophe Quiz
- Practice in Using Apostrophes Correctly: A Multiple-Choice Quiz
- Guidelines for Using Apostrophes
- Attributive Noun
- Confused Words: Its and It's
- Double Genitive, Genitive, and Group Genitive
- Greengrocer's Apostrophe
- "Punctuation in Prose," by Gertrude Stein
- Should the Apostrophe Be Abolished?
- Standard Contractions
- Zero Possessive
Etymology:From the Greek, "turning away"
Examples and Observations:
- Basic Guidelines for Using the Possessive Apostrophe
To form the possessive of singular nouns, add 's (Homer's job, the dog's breakfast). To form the possessive of plural nouns that end in s, add an apostrophe (the bankers' bonuses, the coaches' offices). To form the possessive of plural nouns that end in a letter other than s, add 's (the women's cars, the children's lunch boxes).
- "The mother's heart is the child's schoolroom."
(Henry Ward Beecher)
- "Children's talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives."
(Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969)
- "I will not hide the teacher's medication."
(Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)
- "Teachers' unions are not ruining the country."
(Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)
- Why Apostrophes Matter
"Don't let anyone tell you that apostrophes don't matter and we would be better off without them. Consider these four phrases, each of which means something different:
my sister's friend's books (refers to one sister and her friend)(David Marsh and Amelia Hodsdon, Guardian Style, 3rd ed. Random House UK, 2010)
my sister's friends' books (one sister with lots of friends)
my sisters' friend's books (more than one sister, and their friend)
my sisters' friends' books (more than one sister, and their friends)
- Apostrophes With Family Names
"This brings us to those names we see in front of houses and on mailboxes everywhere--'The Smith's,' 'The Gump's,' and even (sigh) 'The Jone's.' . . .
"Who lives in the house? The Smiths. The Gumps. The Joneses. That's what the signs should say. It's really nobody else's business whether the Smiths, the Gumps, and the Joneses own their domiciles. All we need to know is that the Smiths, the Gumps, and the Joneses live there. If you must announce possession, place the apostrophe after the plural names--'the Smiths',' 'The Gumps',' and 'The Joneses'.'"
(Richard Lederer and John Shore, Comma Sense. St. Martin's, 2005)
- "Not only do I not know what's going on, I wouldn't know what to do about it if I did."
- Origin of the Apostrophe
"The 16th-century printers not only contributed marks for interpolations to the general repertory but also developed new marks to indicate omissions. The apostrophe is a peculiarity of written language: it was intended as a sign to indicate the elision of a vowel, but it was retained to indicate a missing letter when the vowel no longer appeared in the spoken form."
(M.B. Parkes, Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation. Univ. of California Press, 1993)
- Homer: There's your giraffe, little girl.
Ralph: I'm a boy.
Homer: That's the spirit. Never give up.
- Descriptive Phrases Without Apostrophes
"Don't use apostrophes in such primarily descriptive phrases as a New York Mets outfielder, a teachers college, a writers manual, a childrens book, the agencies request. As the AP Stylebook helpfully notes, the apostrophe is usually skipped if 'for' or 'by' would go better than 'of' in a longer version: college for teachers, manual for writers, request by the agencies.
"In descriptive names, some organizations or institutions use the apostrophe while others don't. For instance, Diner's Club, but National Governors' Association. Consult your house style."
(Rene J. Cappon, The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation. Basic Books, 2003)
- "Anyone who refuses point-blank to allow an apostrophe before a plural has to surrender when they are asked to punctuate 'dot the i's and cross the t's.'"
(David Crystal, By Hook or by Crook. Overlook, 2008)
- "Note the havoc wreaked by a missing apostrophe in this ad: 'WANTED: Guitar for college student to learn to play, classical nonelectric, also piano to replace daughters lost in fire.'"
(Richard Lederer, The Revenge of Anguished English. St. Martin's Press, 2005)
- G.B. Shaw on Apostrophes: "Uncouth Bacilli"
"The apostrophies [sic] in ain't, don't, haven't, etc., look so ugly that the most careful printing cannot make a page of colloquial dialogue as handsome as a page of classical dialogue. Besides, shan't should be sha"n't, if the wretched pedantry of indicating the elision is to be carried out. I have written aint, dont, havnt, shant, shouldnt and wont for twenty years with perfect impunity, using the apostrophe only where its omission would suggest another word: for example, hell for he'll. There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli. I also write thats, whats, lets, for the colloquial forms of that is, what is, let us; and I have not yet been prosecuted."
(George Bernard Shaw, "Notes on the Clarendon Press Rules for Compositors and Readers." The Author, 1901)
- Gertrude Stein on Apostrophes
"[The] apostrophe has a gentle tender insinuation that makes it very difficult to definitely decide to do without it. One does do without it, I do, I mostly always do, but I cannot deny that from time to time I feel myself having regrets and from time to time I put it in to make the possessive case. I absolutely do not like it all alone when it is outside the word when the word is a plural, no then positively and definitely no, I do not like it and in leaving it out I feel no regret . . .."
(Gertrude Stein, "Punctuation in Prose." Lectures in America, 1935)