Are you the sort of student who has a problem with the use of those dreaded things called ‘apostrophes?’ Some call them ‘flying commas,’ which is a bit foolish. Other possibly have an assortment of names for them. They are the sort of thing that can terrify the unsure student of the English language, but fear not, for they are easy to understand.

Consider the following examples and ideas. Hopefully, what follows will make sense, but whether it will be easy to grasp will ultimately be up to you.

Are apostrophes really needed in a changing English language? 

I believe that you can ditch them for good. Instead of writing “I can’t do it” and inadvertently writing the non-word of “ca’nt” or any other derivative, simply write “I cannot do it” and write it out in full.

Here is a task for you to do right now. Go to your computer and copy a file you have created that has a story in there. With the copied file, go through it and delete all the shortened words like “can’t” and “wouldn’t,” adding in the missing letters and words to make it make sense. You will, once done, have something perfectly Standard English, whereas your first effort will be a mix of Standard English [StdE] and Non Standard English [NonStdE]. It can be done. It makes your work easier to read as well and scores higher points at GCSE exams. 

How do we know which one to use when we add an apostrophe? 

Usually, there are two hard and fast rules. One is omission and the other is possession. The first one is where you omit [leave out] a letter, like “shouldn’t.” The latter is when something is owned, like “Stephen’s book.” It is all so easy to grasp when you think about it, but the problem is it can get a little odd at times, especially with possessive apostrophes when someone has a name ending with S. For example, “James” can be an issue. “It is James’s book” is a terrible use of English and will result in your marker in an exam having heart failure and giving you low marks. Using “James’ book” instead will make him [or her] grin like a Cheshire Cat and give you the A* grade. Some will look at this and say it is wrong, but they are the ones who are wrong. If you ever see someone write a word that ends in “s’s” then run for the hills, for they are a bad influence on your learning.

An example to consider-Pluralism

Screenshot 2016-08-23 at 10.56.09.png

A television programme recently ran this as an episode title and as soon as I saw it, I knew to use it here. You may recognise the programme if you are a fan of the show. But, take note of the picture and the words on there. The title is surrounded by apostrophes, or to use their better title, quotation marks or speech marks. They are not the ones found above the number 2 on a keyboard [if in the UK] and so it appears as if there are three apostrophes in the title.

How wrong could we be?

In effect, what is happening here is the use of the plural word being apostrophised. Stranger refers to one person. Strangers is talking about two or more people. If a single stranger has a home, it would be The Stranger’s Home. But because the S on the end, before the apostrophe is used, it refers to a pair or group of strangers. When this happens, we have to use the apostrophe at the end [or rewrite the title as The Home Of Strangers].

Which one sounds better, I wonder?

In the end, if you write clearly, using apostrophes well, then you will score highly. If not, then do not expect a C grade if you make a lot of errors in this usage. If you do, then I urge you now, to Dump The Apostrophe and rethink your sentences when not sure, so that your writing becomes freer and more accurate.

Happy writing.