Apostrophes & the English possessive: Things to make your head explode
Followers of my blog know that I really try to mix things up, presenting articles on a wide variety of topics from how-to articles and posts on writing to publishing advice, interviews, and other things of interest to writers.
This week I’m not going to pull any punches. This topic is embodied in two articles that just might make your head explode after reading them.
Now, in all fairness, the one on apostrophes, being from Wikipedia, covers a LOT of ground and moves into other languages. Those parts you can safely skip unless you’re really into foreign languages or just want to read about the apostrophe’s use outside English.
The article on the possessive is, I think, fascinating. It’s also not nearly as long an article as the one on apostrophes. The first part explains a lot and hopefully will help clear up problems you might have with proper use of the possessive in English. Then it goes into some historical explanation, which again might aid in your understanding.
As for which article you should read first, that’s up to you. They are in many respects complementary articles, but the one on the apostrophe is by far the more technical one. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. I can promise that you will learn some good information from it.
One thing I learned from the apostrophe article is how to enter a “typographic apostrophe,” which is the one that we normally think of, not the reversed on the MS Word inserts when you begin a word with it (Tell ’em to wait until I get there. I’ll do it just ’cause I want to.)
If you have smart quotes turned on in MS Word, it assumes a leading apostrophe should be treated as an open quote mark (‘em, ‘cause) and you or your editor will end up having to fix those, assuming you or your editor realize the error and spot them. There’s no easy way to fix them by Search and Replace because there’s no way to tell Word the difference. One suggestion (assuming you think about it BEFORE you begin your story or novel is to note any such words that begin with an apostrophe so you can search them out later.
What I learned in the article that I hadn’t known previously is that there’s a real easy way to insert the correctly pointing apostrophe: you hold the CTRL key and press the apostrophe key TWICE. This will insert that the article calls “the typewriter apostrophe. It was a cool revelation, and I’m going to add that to the second edition of Punctuation for Fiction Writers that I’m deeply embroiled in working on at the moment. I hope to be able to announce its release very early in 2020. We’ll see.
I hope you find these two articles enlightening and useful.