The apostrophe is a handy little punctuation mark that does two (and only two) jobs in writing: it shows ownership in possessive words, and it indicates missing letters in contractions.
For some reason, this simple little mark is widely misused and abused. A lot. Perhaps as often as it’s used correctly. Many, many people seem to believe apostrophes belong in plurals. (They would write plural’s instead of plurals.) As annoying as that habit is, we’ll let it go. For now.
This particular rant revolves around what is often the correct use of the apostrophe, but with the incorrect punctuation mark. It happens when writers drop a letter at the beginning of a word, usually when writing vernacular or dialect. (Such as ’bout for about, ’er for her, ’neath for beneath, ’cause for because, ’fore for before—well, you get the idea.)
The problem is, I found—with very little looking for examples as I write this—all these contractions printed (or posted) as ‘bout, ‘er, ‘neath, ‘cause, and ‘fore. All using an incorrect punctuation mark.
This: ’ is an apostrophe. This: ‘ is not.
You’ll notice the marks bend, or hook, in opposite directions.
The one that hooks opposite the apostrophe is the single opening quotation mark, for use when quoted material falls within a larger quotation, such as:
“I saw Shorty in town yesterday,” Slim said. “He gave me a tip of the hat and said ‘howdy’ but that was all.”
Blame it on word processing programs. But writers share the blame when they don’t fix it.
When you hit the appropriate key at the beginning of a word, the single opening quotation mark appears on the screen, rather than the apostrophe that appears if you hit the same key within a word. Computers don’t know any better. Writers should. There are two ways to fix it; both are simple, one more so than the other.
You can fix it by finding a proper apostrophe elsewhere in your writing and copying and pasting it at the beginning of your contracted word. Or, easier still, you can hit the key twice—that will give you a single opening quotation mark followed by an apostrophe (or single closing quotation mark). Then, delete the wrong one and you’re correct.
“Big deal,” I hear you saying (perhaps with a crude adjective between those two words). Maybe you’re right. But the more we allow little lapses in communication—which is what punctuation is all about in the first place—the more accepting we are of bigger and more serious lapses. Before you know it, it’s all gobbledygook.
Too much writing comes out that way, anyway.