Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The apostrophe has a lot of jobs.

  • It makes things possessive,
  • it indicates the omissions of letters in contractions and numbers in dates,
  • it is used to indicate strange accents in dialog, and
  • it indicates plurals of words and letters.

To complicate matters, it looks almost or exactly the same as the single-quote in many fonts and in hand-writing.

I have read of proposals to use a distinct mark of punctuation for each task. What are some of these proposals?

share|improve this question
    
It is used to set off internal quotes? You must be thinking of the quotation marks (or "inverted commas"), unrelated to the apostrophe (though the closing single quote looks similar to the apostrophe and may even be the same glyph in many fonts). –  ShreevatsaR Aug 6 '10 at 3:16
1  
Yes, I realize single-quotes aren't technically the same as apostrophes. But they look almost (and sometimes exactly) the same, and I use the same key on my keyboard for both. So my question could be phrased better. I'll see what I can do. –  mac9416 Aug 6 '10 at 3:25
add comment

3 Answers

I'm not aware of any serious proposals to change the English language that way, but for example the use case of separating (plural) suffixes from non-words, such as "the 1990's", is handled differently in other languages, for example with a colon in Swedish or (often) with nothing at all in German. So that can be one proposal. ;-)

If you don't like the similarity of apostrophe and single quotation marks, use double quotation marks, or if you want to be exceptional, French quotation marks: « ... »

The apostrophe in the possessive 's is actually a case of omission (the more or less literal meaning of "apostrophe"), because way back when the genitive suffix was -es. So that should probably stay the way it is in any case.

share|improve this answer
1  
I'm not sure it would be a good idea to have multiple levels of double-quotes, but French quotes... That looks interesting! Also, I had never heard of that explanation of the possessive 's. Thanks for mentioning that. Thanks for your answer! It doesn't completely answer my question, but it is very helpful. –  mac9416 Aug 6 '10 at 21:04
    
French quotation marks, a.k.a. guillemets. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillemets –  nohat Aug 6 '10 at 21:11
1  
I wonder if "air quotes" in French are done with a bend. –  nohat Aug 6 '10 at 21:12
4  
I usually write decades without an apostrophe, e.g. "the 90s" or the "1920s". And in fact, on a Google search, "1990s" outnumbers "1990's" by 3:1. –  Vincent McNabb Aug 7 '10 at 1:55
    
Yeah, I usually do the same. I think people are moving away from using the apostrophe there, thank goodness. –  mac9416 Aug 7 '10 at 13:59
add comment

Which do you prefer?
apostrophes

share|improve this answer
    
Nice illustration of the point. Can't use all the codes the way shown in can't, though. Only the third seems to fit. –  Kris Dec 20 '11 at 12:28
add comment

These characters already defined in Unicode.

‘Hello,’ said O'Donnell

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.