1124 Apostrophe ...

Long live the apostrophe,

a bulwark against chaos

by Charles Purcell, SMH

It seems the apostrophe is on the way out. “The most striking thing is how informal language has become, there has been a systematic shift towards more informal vocabulary and grammar.”


It is just another symptom of the reshaping of language by the increasing use of social media: apparently now even full stops in text messages are regarded as threatening by young people.


My teeth grind whenever I walk past a sign offering “cappuccino’s” or “coffee’s” or see a place that is “open Sunday’s”.

Probably the greatest offenders are "CD's", "Video's" and "DVD's" ... where in the same shop you have "Records" on offer, and "Books".


It’s a sad indictment on the modern education system that no one seems to know when to use “it’s” or “its” any more. 

First things first, it is a third-person singular neuter pronoun, used (among other ways) to stand in for inanimate things or ideas.

Now, here’s the big takeaway: 

Its is a possessive form of the pronoun it, meaning belonging to it.

It’s is a contraction of the words it is or it has. (Interestingly, we don’t really contract it was into it’s.)

If you’re trying to figure out whether you should write it’s or its, swap in it is or it has. If the sentence makes sense with either of those substitutions, use it’s. If the resulting sentence doesn’t make sense, you need its.

How to use it’s

It’s is a contraction of the words it and is or it and has. A contraction is a shortened form of a word or group of words (we love to smush sounds together when we speak), with the omitted letters often replaced in written English by an apostrophe, as it’s does for the i in is and the ha-portion of has.


When a sign declares a “farmer’s market”, I expect to find a single farmer behind those potato stalls. 

Since there are more than one, it should be "farmers' market".

“Honk if your horny”? Not when you forget the apostrophe, friend ... the ongoing confusion over “your” and “you’re”:

Your is possessive, meaning that something belongs to you or the person you are speaking to. For example, “What is yourname?” Or, “Are these your car keys?”

You’re is a combination of the words, you and are. This is called a contraction. So, whenever you see the word you’re, you can read it as you are and it will still make sense.

The most simple way to tell these two apart is to use them in a sentence. For example: Your dog is lovely. This makes perfect sense, but you’re (you are) dog is lovely, does not work. You can use this to your advantage when testing if you’re using the right one.


I like to think good punctuation is one of the things 

that separates order from chaos. 


The likes of the apostrophe, ellipses and brackets protect us from the nightmarish free-for-all of social media, a world where everything is “LOL”, “OMG!” and “YOLO”, exclamation marks are handed out like candy canes and one day great works of literature will have all their punctuation swapped out for emojis or abridged to 280 character limits a la Twitter.




Illustration by John Shakespeare.



And another thing that separates order from chaos is the 'hyphen'. Look at this headline in the Sun Herald: 

How about we change it to ”Peer support helps rape-survivors”; I reckon then it is somewhat less ambiguous. Just saying.