Apostrophes, Good Editing!, Grammar, Punctuation

The Omissive Apostrophe


I found this gem on the bumper of a van as I was walking into a casino. This time, I don’t have a problem; rather, I want to point out a correctly used punctuation mark!

Many think apostrophes are used to show possession — and those people would be correct — but the little devils are pretty useful for other purposes. One such purpose is to show omission. You’ve probably seen this in dates: Class of ’06, Born in the ’80s. Have you ever wondered what that apostrophe is doing there? Have you ever known that even is an apostrophe?

When you write something (a word or a date, etc.) that you want to somehow cut off, leave it to the trusty apostrophe to save the day. Sometimes people will write to reflect the way they pronounce words that end in -ing by leaving off the g. They might write, “Nothin’. I’m just hangin’ out.” The reason the apostrophe is there is that it takes the place of letters or numbers that have been omitted. Instead of writing the 1980s, sometimes you might want to shorten it to the ’80s.

The real reason I posted this Obama bumper sticker, though, is to highlight that the punctuation mark is facing the correct way. Many times, especially when writing in Microsoft Word, writers make the cursed mistake of using a single quotation mark instead of an apostrophe.

A single quotation mark is used most often when you have quotations within quotations, like the following example:

Screen Shot 2012-12-19 at 8.43.54 PM

Notice that the single quotation marks sort of hug what they contain; in this instance, they seem to be embracing jock strap.

When, however, you want to omit letters or numbers from the beginning of a word, unless you are super conscientious of this rule, you will often make the following mistake, using a single quotation mark instead of an apostrophe:

Screen Shot 2012-12-19 at 8.39.06 PM

No, No, NO. Only an apostrophe can handle the job of omission, so if you leave it up to the single quotation mark, the apostrophe will crumple into a sad little heap and cry itself to sleep. Every time you do this, you see, an apostrophe dies. You don’t want to carry that kind of burden around, do you? I didn’t think so. How ’bout (huh? Nice apostrophe, right?) you study the following diagram and take copious notes of the mistake you could be making versus the joy you could be bringing to an apostrophe’s life:

Screen Shot 2012-12-19 at 9.25.12 PM

Sometimes, it’s tricky business to type an apostrophe instead of a single quotation mark. Here’s what I’ve learned works best. Let’s say we have the following sentence: It’s about time you came back from the 1990s.

We want to omit the a from about as well as the 19 from 1990s. In Microsoft Word, it’s likely that you will want an apostrophe, but the program will default to a single quotation mark that hugs the word that follows. To counter this, I will type an apostrophe at the end of the word right before the word that contains the omitted letter. In this case, I would type an apostrophe after the s in it’s, making it look like this: It’s’. Then, I would place my cursor right between the s and the apostrophe and press space. And NOW I can type the bout with the apostrophe out front instead of the single quotation mark! The same process applies to the 1990s. In Microsoft Word, your finished product should look like this:

Screen Shot 2012-12-19 at 9.05.30 PM

Now everyone is happy; you are, the person reading your writing is, and you can bet both the apostrophes of omission are.

Take the extra time to do this one right — it will impress editors, professors, Santa, or others who secretly scream into pillows every time they come across the mistake.


2 thoughts on “The Omissive Apostrophe”

  1. I agree, Laura. I go with straight punctuation marks whenever I can; however, I have edited material for authors who prefer to use “curly” marks in their books, so it’s always good to know the rules! Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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