In expressions such as "ham 'n eggs", the conjunction 'n appears to replace and, yet there is only one apostrophe to indicate the missing a and none for the missing d (i.e., no "ham 'n' eggs").

Is there a punctuation rule that governs this or is it just an idiosyncratic case?

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    The primary purpose of the apostrophe is to indicate that something is missing from the 'word' (in "won't", for example, "uld" and "o" from "would not"). So it's effectively "standard practice" to only have a single apostrophe in "ham 'n eggs". – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '12 at 21:08
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    @Fumble: I was under the impression that won't is a contraction of will not. Wouldn't is the contraction for would not. – Robusto Jan 24 '12 at 21:18
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    @Robusto: Ooops! Wrong example! I was going to use "ain't", but deconstructing it got too awkward. I thought the general principle was we only use one apostrophe though, however much is discarded, but maybe that's wrong too - people mostly write 'tisn't, I think. – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '12 at 21:21
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    @Fumble: It happens. :) – Robusto Jan 24 '12 at 21:28
  • @Robusto: Well, Daniel seems to have shown that this particular one is atypical anyway - plus I've just remembered that in the UK it's always Toys 'R' Us when they're not using the reversed letter "R". – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '12 at 22:17

From a cursory glance, it appears to be a rule up to free variation. Consider:

  1. From a naive search with the Google N-Gram viewer, it appears that n' has a slight edge. Google N-Gram Viewer

But if you zoom in to look at variations of and eggs, as well as ham and eggs, the picture gets murkier. Keep in mind that, since this is very informal usage, that it probably wasn't used frequently in the print media that the Google Ngram viewer searches through. enter image description here enter image description here

  1. Examples from popular culture:
  2. Variations of Ham and Eggs, culled from search engines:

Conclusion: People tend to do one of 4 things to denote an unemphasized and:

  1. 'n'
  2. 'n
  3. n'
  4. n or N

As there is no broad consensus, and because people don't think about edge cases like these, I believe you could justifiably use any of them.

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    I notice that GN'R is the standout, but then, rock bands are not known for their close attention to orthography: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal_umlaut – choster Jan 24 '12 at 22:10
  • Hmm, I don't recall ever seeing n' as an abbreviation for "and". I just did a Yahoo search and the only example I could turn up was the band. I wonder if Google Ngram may be giving misleading results, like counting "n"'s that occur at the end of a quote or something. (Not sure what the rules are for Google Ngram.) – Jay Jan 24 '12 at 22:25
  • @Jay: I agree, the Ngrams can be tricky. I'll add some more data. – Blue Magister Jan 24 '12 at 22:42
  • Guns N' Roses -> Guns Neuroses (or perhaps more accurately, Axl's Neuroses). – Paul Richter Jan 25 '12 at 0:43

If there'd've been a rule against multiple apostrophe I'd've known about it. Or somebody'd've.

More here.


Could it be a question of phonetics? In wouldn't, we know that we have to insert a "schwa" or "mid central vowel", IPA ə, i.e. the most non-descript vowel possible, and very common in English, somewhere.

In wouldn't this sound doesn't actually come where the apostrophe is, but instead between the d and the n. The reason for putting it where it is references the fact of omitting the O sound and/or the letter O.

Ham 'n eggs is good because, if the apostrophe corresponds to the schwa, it is also where the schwa actually goes. But you could potentially achieve the same effect with Ham n' eggs.

If you try to go Ham 'n' eggs, however, two problems are created: lexicographically, it starts to look like "n" is quoted rather than being preceded and followed by phonetic markers. Phonetically you might be tempted to think that it's pronounced "ham ənə eggs", which would be seriously funny and potentially rather Italian.


Ham 'n eggs does not appear to be the more common usage, so I think it unlikely that there is a grammatical reason for it.



Since, in a contraction, the apostrophe denotes removed letters, and the word and has been contracted to n by removing both the a and the d, the correct written form would be:


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