Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back to Basics: Apostrophes

In response to a recent comment from Linda on an earlier post, I have gathered here my previous apostrophe posts and will attempt to cover any ground I've missed among them. I had intended this post to rely heavily on these earlier examples, but I discovered, to my chagrin, that I hadn't ever written a really basic piece about apostrophes. I intend to correct that oversight here.

And now for the basic definitions. You use apostrophes to indicate either possession, by a noun, or at least one letter having been left out of a word. The latter occurs most often in contractions such as “don't”, “can't”, and you've” but also shows up when parts of words or numbers have been left off of the start or end, especially in dates. You can write, “During the '80s,” to indicate that you have left off the 19 in the year. Note that the expression requires only one apostrophe, as the ending s indicates a plural number of years and not the decade's possession of something.

If you are anything like me, you'll find one use of the apostrophe confusing. Sources consider it appropriate to use the apostrophe when indicating more than one lower case letter, as in “mind your p's and q's”. You need not include the punctuation when talking about more than one capital letter (Ls), number (7s), or symbol (?s). I don't understand that rule, but I include it here for completeness.

I hope that answers your questions, Linda, and gives you an idea of what you can and should not do with apostrophes. If anyone needs more clarification, please drop me a note below and I'll answer them in the near future.