[NTLK] Apostrophe?

Doug Denby ddenby at rogers.com
Mon Dec 3 19:59:41 EST 2012

Wow, my little comment about Frank's aside brought about a great deal of discussion.

The apostrophe for possession is obvious. It changes the noun to which it is applied into an adjective modifying a subsequent noun. i.e. John's Car

As I noted, if there is no subsequent noun, the apostrophe does not designate possession, as there is nothing to possess. In that case it designates a plural, but is only used with proper nouns, the purpose of which is ensure the proper spelling of the proper noun. Abbreviations follow the same logic.

Yes, it is possible to have a reversed sentence like "The car is John's." Keep in mind that the verb "to be" is unique. "This is John's car." would be a clearer way to say this. Regardless there is an item to be possessed, the car, and so the apostrophe is clearly designating possession.

The true function of an apostrophe is to substitute for something that is missing. So "it's" is a short form of "it is", while "its" is a pronoun.

Written language has come a long way from the days when only capitals were used and there were no spaces or other forms of punctuation. There was a time when reading was the purview of only a select group of scholars, who had to try to decipher meaning from a gobbledygook of letters on the page. Sometimes he was considered blasphemy to think that the common person was capable of reading anything.

The first forms of punctuation likely come from the Greek playwrights, who needed a way to tell the actors when to stop, thus was born the period and then the comma.

It was centuries after Shakespeare that the standardization process began with the introduction of dictionaries and grammars. By the mid 19th century, with the birth and growth of public education, the standards began to be sacrosanct. With the spread of public education these standards became the de facto way of reproducing speech. The growth of the industrial revolution began levelling the playing field and language habits reserved for the elite became the standard for all.

Countering this process was the expansion of the English language across the planet as a byproduct of the Imperial Might of England and the British Empire.

With both forces at work, cries of "dumbing" down (breaking from standards) and rigidity (Chicago Manual of Style) batter away at each other.

I stick to my guns about the apostrophe on plurals of proper nouns and abbreviations. But who knows, the future is uncertain, as is the present.


On 2012-12-02, at 11:45 PM, Doug Denby wrote:

> In previous versions of English punctuation, an apostrophe was used to append the "s" in plurals. This habit seems to have evolved out of modern punctuation, but it makes sense when applying the plural to an abbreviation as it separates the actual abbreviation from the plural suffix, which could otherwise be considered part of the abbreviation. The lack of a subsequent noun that would make the noun with the apostrophe into an adjective is sufficient to recognize the purpose of the apostrophe.
> And for a similar reason it can and maybe should be applied to proper nouns, such as the Smith's and the Jones's, and maybe even to the Gruendel's. 
> Doug
> On 2012-12-02, at 6:42 PM, Frank Gruendel wrote:
>> Hi all,
>> if you are interested in one of my 20 MB linear flash memory cards, please
>> get your favourite beverage, lean back, relax, and read the following FAQs
>> (no, there isn't an apostrophe in FAQs) thoroughly. I apologize to all list
>> members who already know this by heart.

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