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  1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Apostrophe

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Gannon, Oct 26, 2007.

    The Apostrophe.

    I have put this together as much for my own understanding as for everyone else’s. I hope you find it useful.

    The apostrophe is many things but is also conversely nothing as it refers to that which isn’t present. With thanks to dictionary.com, here follows the noun apostrophe’s grammatical meaning:

    apostrophe: the sign ('), as used: to indicate the omission of one or more letters in a word, whether unpronounced, as in o'er for over, or pronounced, as in gov't for government; to indicate the possessive case, as in man's; or to indicate plurals of abbreviations and symbols.It has a second meaning which I will mention below.

    In grammar the apostrophe, as it says above, has several uses.

    1) to indicate the omission of one or more letters in a word, whether unpronounced, as in o'er for over, or pronounced, as in gov't for government

    Here the apostrophe replaces what has been taken away – it refers to that which is missing.

    This is also true for more conventional contraction – “what’s the time?” – short for – “what is the time?” The verb has been contracted, letters are missing, hence the apostrophe is used as a substitute.

    2) to indicate the possessive case

    This can be the most difficult case to learn. We are all aware of the possessive apostrophe – “the cat’s hat” etc. When there is more than one cat the apostrophe changes position to after the full noun including the plural inflection – “the cats’ hat”. Here more than one cat has one hat.

    When dealing with a person whose name ends in an /s/ i.e. James the possessive form is – “James’ hat”. No more is required. It is not “Jame’s hat” as James is not a plural merely ending in the orthographic /s/.

    The pronoun “it” does not take the possessive apostrophe – “The sea … its colour was of the darkest blue”. When the pronoun “it” does take an apostrophe – “it’s a long way” – it is being used to denote the contraction of “it” and the verb form “is”.

    Please see this discussion for more details on "its" vs. "it's":

    Its vs. It's - Writing Forums

    Possessive forms such as “his”, “her”, “its”, “theirs”, “ours” and “whose” do not require an apostrophe as they are their own special case and already carry possessive inflection within the word formation. “Who’s” is a contraction of “who” and the verb form “is” – “Who’s coming to the party?”

    The possessive of the personal pronoun “one” is however “one's”. "One" is sadly irregular.

    Further difficulty arrives with a phrase such as this:

    “My dad’s dog is dead.” (Possessive). This phrase is correctly punctuated, as are all of the following I believe, though in practice we would try to avoid using such structures for obvious reasons.

    “My dad’s dog’s dead.” (Possessive and contraction).

    “James’ dad’s dog’s dead.” (2 x possessive and contraction).

    “James’ friend’s brother’s dog’s dead.” (and so on…)

    Further confusion arrives with this phrase.

    “Michael and James’ dog died.” (Possessive)

    There is no need for the possessive to extend to both parties. The dog belongs to both Michael and James and as such Michael and James constitute the sole subject of the sentence and hence don’t both need a possessive.

    If both Michael and James had their own dogs and they both died then the phrase would need to be structured like this: “Michael’s dog and James’ dog (both) died.”

    3) to indicate plurals of abbreviations and symbols

    The apostrophe is not used to show the plural of regular nouns. – “question’s” etc is incorrect as a plural, and only correct if something belongs to the question (possessive use of the apostrophe) – “the question’s answer”.

    With thanks to Wikipedia the plural of abbreviations is explained.

    Plural Forms

    To form the plural of an abbreviation, a number, or a capital letter used as a noun, simply add a lowercase /s/ to the end.
    · A group of MPs
    · The roaring '20s
    · Mind your Ps and Qs

    The apostrophe before “’20s” is to show the ommission of “19” or whichever century is correct in context.

    To form the plural of an abbreviation with periods, a lowercase letter used as a noun, and abbreviations or capital letters that would be ambiguous or confusing if the /s/ alone were added, use an apostrophe and an /s/.

    · A group of Ph.D.'s
    · The x's of the equation
    · Sending SOS's

    While some authors use the apostrophe in all plural abbreviated forms, it is generally best avoided except as above to prevent ambiguity with the possessive form.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    There is a second none-grammatical meaning to the apostrophe, which again with thanks to dictionary.com is detailed here: “a digression in the form of an address to someone not present, or to a personified object or idea, as “O Death, where is thy sting?””Again what is important is that the apostrophe refers to what is not present or to that which has been removed.


    A commonly cited example of this form of apostrophe is Prospero’s address in the Tempest:

    The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind: We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep.

    None of that which he refers to is present in the slightest as Prospero is on an isolated island. His apostrophe to his servant sprite Ariel is also often cited as example also:

    Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
    Of their afflictions, and shall not myself -
    One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
    Passion as they - be kindlier moved than thou art?

    Another example is the poem O Captain! By Walt Whitman

    O Captain! My Captain - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Whilst there may be more to add to this discussion I thought I would try and help with what is a difficult point of grammar.

    An aside granted but there is also a rather pleasant bar in Reims, France called L'Apostrophe which of course contains an apostrophe for the contraction of the definite article "Le" and the noun "Apostrophe".
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    All good, Gannon, except your last link doesn't work. I'd suggest using this one:

    O Captain! My Captain!- Wikisource

    Which is wikisource rather than wikipedia :)
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...per strunk & white [rule/pg #1], the writer's 'bible' all but 'ancient proper names' [jesus/moses/etc.] ending in s do take 's for the possessive... more modern punctuation gurus like harry shaw ['punctuate it right!'], qualify that by saying only single-syllable names do and multi- ones don't... so, don't rely on wikipedia as if all you find there has been handed down on stone tablets...
     
  4. Raven
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    Raven Banned

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    Interesting. Thanks Banzai for adding that link.
     
  5. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    An interesting clarification. Can both not be correct though? As the possession belongs to James not to Jame? I in no way contest that you and Strunk & White are correct thoughbut if it's OK for Jesus in my book it's for OK for James. Can / has grammar not role(d) to accomodate this?

    The only information I took from Wikipedia is the link for the Whitman poem and the information of plurals of abbreviations hence the above statement about James and plurals is my own. I am well aware Wikipedia is not Gospel. Thank you for your thoughts and clarification. Interesting whatever the outcome.
     
  6. Masli
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    Masli Member

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    You have no idea how much this has helped me! I've been struggling with this for a loooong time now!
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's why one puts James', not Jame's.

    Fowler (the British writers' Bible) says that the apostrophe with no extra 's' is the old form, which is still retained "n verse, and in poetic or reverential contexts". But "elsewhere we now usually add the s and the syllable -- always when the word is monosyllabic, and preferably when it is longer".
     
  8. Idearella
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    Idearella New Member

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    It is James's - mammamaia is right. Although not many will fault you for James', some grammar snobs will turn up their noses at you.

    Here's how I remember the its and it's thing:

    his, hers and its are all possessive with apostrophe
     
  9. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for the clarification on this point. This is an old post and I do now happily concede this point.
     
  10. Idearella
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    Idearella New Member

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    Crumb-nuggets, Gannon! I didn't even see the dates.

    I'm a moderator of another forum and I watch people do this all the time. I never get mad at them, and this is probably the reason. It is so easy to ignore the dates when you're a newbie.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Except "in verse, and in poetic or reverential contexts", which is why you see Jesus' as well as Jesus's. St. James was an apostle, and so James does come up in reverential contexts. If any grammar snobs try to turn their nose up at St. James' Park (The correct spelling of Newcastle United's football ground) then I'm afraid they're wrong. It's every bit as correct as St. James's Park (the correct spelling of the park next to my office in London).

    In most contexts it will be James's, as you, mamamia, Fowler and I all say. But it's important to realise that there are contexts in which James' is correct, or beginners will get confused when they encounter them.[/QUOTE]
     

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