Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


PITY THE poor apostrophe. It is getting increasingly misused, abused and even relegated to secondary status among its punctuational brethren. Yet I also appreciate that our English language is a living thing, and maybe we should be graceful about this and just kiss it off.

Take a

Take a good look. The apostrophe, in whatever shape, may be on its way outta here.

There are three principal uses for the apostrophe in English: to identify a contraction, to identify a possessive, and to ease the legibility of some plurals.

This last one is the least abused: “Mind your P’s and Q’s” is easier on the eye than “Mind your Ps and Qs.”

The other two, contractions and possessives, get garbled, overdone, underdone, ignored and interchanged. The rules, though, are fairly straightforward.

The contraction of “do not” is “don’t.” No big deal, though I’ve seen both “ dont’ ” and “dont” in print.

The possessive adds “ ’s ” to the possessor: My aunt’s pen; St. Paul’s Epistle. Again, easy enough, but I’ve seem “my aunts’ pen” when there’s only a single aunt being discussed.

English author Kingsley Amis offered a charming example of this in three variations of a single sentence:

● Those things over there are my husband’s. (They belong to her husband.)

● Those things over there are my husbands’. (She’s been married more than once—or is polyandrous.)

● Those things over there are my husbands. (My favorite, though perhaps she’s being a tad disrespectful to them all.)

And then there’s the misused double possessive: “The Epistle of St. Paul’s.” The “of” would seem sufficient to confirm possession.

I could imagine an example, albeit a contrived one, in which this double possessive is correct: Concerning a restaurant called “Joe’s,” a reviewer might write “the menu of Joe’s is a hearty one.” That is, it’s the menu belonging to Joe’s, not the menu belonging to Joe.

On another aspect of all this, there’s widespread confusion about the contraction “it’s” and the possessive “its.” Somehow it bothers me less when the apostrophe is simply ignored in lieu of using it incorrectly. The occasionally “ its’ ” looks plain wrong.

Ignoring the poor apostrophe is being abetted by designers of our gizmos—and God forbid computer whizzes should become arbiters of the English language.


The default keyboard of an iPad lacks an apostrophe, but it exclaims just fine, thanks.

The keyboard of my iPad doesn’t have an apostrophe in its default display, though it does has an exclamation point.


The apostrophe resides one level down, together with an additional exclamation point.

There is an apostrophe in the next level of the keyboard—where “ ! ” is duplicated. What does this tell us about the designers’ usage of the language? The apostrophe gets a similar deal on my iPhone, though it’s easier to rationalize given the keypad’s limited real estate.

[Addendum: See Reply below for a neat iPad feature I never used.]

On the other hand, maybe these designers are just ahead of their time. Up into the 1800s, today’s possessive “its” was written “it’s.” No less than Thomas Jefferson used it in hi’s writing. Maybe its time to loosen up with this English language of ours. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

9 comments on “APOSTROPHES LIVE

  1. Richard Fite
    January 18, 2013

    With just a touch and hold on that comma / exclamation key our apostrophe is available without an additional keystroke. Words remain important to some of us and punctuation does help make meanings more clear.
    Thanks for these posts.

    • simanaitissays
      January 18, 2013

      Hi, Richard,
      Thanks for the iPad tip.
      This “hold-and-slide” works fine.
      Thanks for your kind words as well.
      – d

  2. Bill Rabel
    January 27, 2013

    The touch-and-slide has many other examples, such as the vowels and all their diacritical marks, to say nothing of ñ. When browsing, the .com slides into .net, .edu, etc. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I compiled a monthly Mac tips column, and I love to find tricks like this. R&T is on thin ice without you around. Thanks.

  3. Bill Rabel
    January 27, 2013

    A shortcoming of the iPad seems to be that it cannot leave a post on your site. The ‘details’ portion of the page seems to be obscured by the area containing the new post. Hmmm.

  4. Bill Rabel
    January 27, 2013

    Odd. Now I can post. Sorry for the earlier gripe.

  5. italexpress
    February 19, 2013

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  6. isabel marant sneakers sale
    February 20, 2013

    Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do some research on this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I am very glad to see such wonderful info being shared freely out there. isabel marant sneakers sale

    • simanaitissays
      February 20, 2013

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad the item was helpful.
      – d

  7. Jeff Wick
    June 7, 2013

    I loved the book title that originated from incorrect punctuation in an account of the life of the panda: “Eats, shoots and leaves.”

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This entry was posted on January 18, 2013 by in I Usta be an Editor Y'Know and tagged .
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