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Harp's avatar

Why should we bother with the "apostrophe of omission"?

Asked by Harp (19019 points ) November 18th, 2009

I’m referring to the apostrophe that acts as a placeholder when letters are omitted in writing contractions, as in “don’t”, “what’s”, “I’m”, etc.

This usage seems to be slipping in online text, along with many other conventions, of course. But whereas I don’t want to see capitalization go away, I have a hard time thinking of a reason to fight the disappearance of the apostrophe of omission. What does it bring to the game, other than yet another opportunity to screw up?

More generally, where do you feel we should draw the line in the sand with respect to changes in the rules of language? With more people creating more public text than at any other point in history, the evolutionary pressures on language are bound to ratchet up tremendously. Mutations are far more likely to “go viral” now than even twenty years ago. Is this a call to man the barricades and defend the old standards, or do we just let linguistic natural selection cull the herd?

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40 Answers

trailsillustrated's avatar

it’s okay in online texting but I cringe when I see in letters, faxes and especially when I see sign at store saying ’ sale on tyre’s” and things like that….

hearkat's avatar

I’ll would become ill, we’re and were, etc… It also bugs me when the apostrophe is misplaced in pluralizations as in @trailsillustrated‘s example.

I don’t have time to further discuss the details of your question, but I did make a related comment in @Gailcalled’s recent effect/affect post.

JLeslie's avatar

I have mixed feelings. Verbally if it sounds the same, them maybe there is little need? We understand from the context of the sentence what is meant. Generally I don’t like to see the rules of a language screwed around with, but this one I might be able to accept.

Harp's avatar

@hearkat True, but English has never shied away from homographs that are interpreted contextually.

wundayatta's avatar

Sometimes this leads to needless ambiguities. “Your” to mean “you’re”—a lot of people use it, and sometimes I’m three quarters of the way through the sentence before I realized the “your” was meant to be “you’re.” I have to go back and reread it.

marinelife's avatar

I feel that those apostrophes are vital to discern meaning. Without them, “dont” and “werent” do not have meanings and, in the case of the latter, are not spelled correctly. I also don’t think that English needs more homographs.

Despite the increased ability to publish, I think the old adage “Eat poop; ten million flies can’t be wrong” applies here. People will continue to be classified as competent or as educated based on how well they write. It is also a way to decide whether to take someone seriously.

Thus, while the language will evolve and the pace may be faster, that is no reason to abandon the grammar and spelling standards that are working.

RedPowerLady's avatar

As long as I can understand what someone is saying I’m okay with it. However I do enjoy caps because it helps it so my eyes do not strain. And I would definitely say no ‘all caps’ speak because I just can’t read it. But as far as grammar and spelling, as long as the point is clear I really don’t mind. This should be fun, not schoolwork. Not to say that I don’t appreciate it being done well because I most certainly do. It just makes understanding what another is saying much much easier.

jackm's avatar

I think language is a tool for communication, and if you can communicate your ideas, then you have succeeded.

People have to remember, the rules follow usage, not the other way around. When the masses are all making the same error, its stops being an error and becomes the rule.

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

The English language is always evolving. Thankfully I will be long dead before txt spk becomes the norm. Of course, I have been known to dcorrect places with improper grammar on thier signs. I even caught a hospital at it one day. The sign said Doctor’s Parking Only on the lot where ALL the doctors park. I knew trhe maintenance guy and pointed it out to him. He found it as hilarious as I did, and as far as I know, they fixed the sign.

Without rules, we have chaos, and that applies to language as well as behavior.

JLeslie's avatar

@Psychedelic_Zebra I once caught a spelling mistake on a sign at a museum. I can’t remember the mistake now. It was a temporary sign, and when I told a person in the museum they said it had been written by one of the guys who is Hispanic. WTF kind of answer is that? If his English is poor then proof it before you embarrass yourself and the insitution. It was a history museum in Atlanta, shouldn’t they have a better standard?

jackm's avatar

Why do you not want text speak to become the norm?

LC_Beta's avatar

If were gonna eliminate the apostrophy of ommission ill go crazy. I cant imagine it.

This thread made me wonder whether MS Word and other writing tools that point out errors and use auto-correct are preserving some language standards. On iPhone it’s a bit of a hassle to intentionally misspell, until you teach it to do so.

tinyfaery's avatar

Okay by me. Ill adapt.

nikipedia's avatar

I vote for natural selection. Trying to staunch the flow of linguistic mutations is futile, and even if we could, I don’t see any benefit.

Very few spelling or grammar errors actually interfere with meaning, and the ones that do will, I think, be naturally culled out.

evegrimm's avatar

I’m one of those weirdos who knows all my grammar rules (or most of them) and it drives me crazy when I see something misspelled, with incorrect grammar, or with a noun pluralized like so: noun’s.

Removing the apostrophe of omission seems as weird to me as removing commas in sentences. Or, you know, going with the popular spelling of “ect” and “begging”. It encourages laziness and the corruption of the written word.

andrew's avatar

How else will I be able to know who to hire based on their attention to detail?

filmfann's avatar

IDK if U R rite. Wuz this axed B4?

gailcalled's avatar

And note that we spell it “apostrophe” and pronouce it apah strophee.

Harp's avatar


gailcalled's avatar

@Harp: You rarely make a typo…and we all know that that is what that was.

Harp's avatar

There, all better!

gailcalled's avatar

@Harp: Sneaky.Do you get extra privileges or a much longer penalty time due to your exalted status?

Harp's avatar

Actually, some other mod should have busted my chops for that one. Maybe they were just hanging me out to dry until you could come along and give me a proper hiding.

YARNLADY's avatar

How would we ever know the difference between I will (I’ll) and sick (ill) and were you going, or we are going? There’s already enough words that are spelled alike, and it drives me nuts. (lead or lead?)

JLeslie's avatar

@YARNLADY you made me laugh. Sooo many. The English language is screwy. So many words that sound the same and the only difference is how they are spelled: Pear and Pare; Your and You’re; There, They’re, and Their; To, Too, and Two; So and Sew. Oh, and then there are the words that have two or more totally different meanings. My husband tells the story of seeing a road sign that said “Littering Fine $100” He said he thought about that one for a while until someone explained to him fine not only means ok; but also means fee/penalty. In the end we know from the context of the sentence or general situation.

nxknxk's avatar

It’s sort of an integrity thing and, as @YARNLADY and @hearkat have said, there would be ambiguity issues that (in my opinion) are more severe than simple homophones and homographs.

As someone who studies English language and literature, I’m biased. But it’s simply not sensible to make a concerted effort against the clarity of a language. I am of course excluding any kind of experimental writing; many authors do omit apostrophes purposefully.

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

@jackm because it looks wrong, and also, it looks lazy. txt spk looks like the language of illiterates. If you cannot spell out simple words like ‘you’ and ‘can’ and ‘are’ perhaps you should find some other way of communicating. Try smoke signals.

mattbrowne's avatar

Redundancy in written language has two advantages:

1) Small mistakes do not lead to ambiguity so often
2) Readers require less energy when processing the text

We can reduce redundancy and sometimes still get the meaning, consider this:

Ts ue sms to b spig in onln txt, alng wth mny o cnvntns, of crse. But wras I dont wnt to s cpitiztion go awy…

gailcalled's avatar

I haz hdayk.

wundayatta's avatar

Wanzum azbrn?

gailcalled's avatar

Eeys plz.

I loathe also “my bad.” I wonder what triggers my unhealthy responses to five letters.

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

@mattbrowne if that last sentence you typed is English, please shoot me now!

morphail's avatar

“The prevalence of incorrect instances of the use of the apostrophe at the present time, even in the work of otherwise reasonably well-educated people (e.g. it’s wings, apple’s for sale, this is your’s), together with the abandonment of it by many business firms (Barclays Bank, Lloyds Bank) suggest that the time is close at hand when this moderately useful device should be abandoned.” – Robert Burchfield, The English Language (1985)

mattbrowne's avatar

@Psychedelic_Zebra – It’s from the details of @Harp‘s question.

YARNLADY's avatar

@mattbrowne @Psychedelic_Zebra thanks for the translation, I would have never been able to read it.

mattbrowne's avatar

My point also was: there’s a limit to removing redundancy.

gailcalled's avatar

@mattbrown: Vry tr.

submariner's avatar

I’d prefer to keep the apostrophe of omission and get rid of the possessive apostrophe.

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