Apostrophes of Death

Apostrophes are a common sight in every sort of writing, although they don't always show up where they ought to be. When you want to indicate possession, you normally just tack an apostrophe on the end of the word, followed by the letter s.

Mike's golf clubs spent the rest of the summer in the lake.

My car's left fender frequently fell off.

If the name of the person or thing already ends in the letter s, you just add the apostrophe to the end of the word, and call it a day.

Carlos' older brother watched the sky for signs of rain.

Like Jeff's, Dr. James’ blog post was long, and not entirely entertaining.

Simple enough. But for some reason, there's one word that never gets the apostrophe to show possession, or at least it never should. That word is it.

Its gleaming paint job commanded attention.

Wherever the plane landed was its home.

In other words, the only time you should see the word it with an apostrophe is when there's a contraction of the phrase it is.

It's really the best time to take a vacation.

I think it's a comical gesture, no matter where it occurs.

Since I'm already on the subject of contractions, I may as well finish with a few more examples of the apostrophe's use for those. If two words are combined to form a contraction, the missing letter or letters are indicated with an apostrophe.

It wasn't such a nice day after all.

I can’t believe she would do this to me.

In the first sentence, the words was not are combined, and the missing letter o is indicated by the apostrophe. In the second sentence, the words can not are combined to form the contraction can’t, and the missing n and o are indicated by the apostrophe. No matter how many letters are removed, you always use just one apostrophe. Sometimes, one or more letters are even missing from the front of the word. You probably won’t see this situation much in formal writing; it’s used more for things like poetry, or dialogue.

The flies buzzed ‘round his head.

There are words that have been around so long that we don’t give them much thought, but since they began life as two words, the apostrophe remains to this day. In some of these cases, the apostrophe indicates the absence of entire words.

Ralph is meeting my niece at one o’clock this afternoon.

In this instance, the words of the clock have been replaced with the o’clock contraction; the letter f, along with the entire word the have been deleted. You don’t see this word much anymore, but if you decide to use it sometime, make sure the apostrophe is there, too.

Some words have simply been used in a particular way for so long that any indication of missing letters has been abandoned; they have been added to the language through common use.

My photos turned out better than I had hoped.

Although photos is really a contraction of photographs, you won’t—or at least shouldn’t—see an apostrophe in there. The word has just been used this way for so long that no one expects to see it any other way.    


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