Time for the apostrophe
Recently, on Cape Talk radio (www.capetalk.co.za), afternoon host John Maytham read out a communication from a listener about a sign seen at the Mining Indaba where the apostrophe reared its small and annoying head. The sign said something like “Worlds’ Mines. How many worlds do the people at the Mining Indaba think there are?
Now this is one of the great dividers between the general population and Sticklers for English Usage (such as myself). In spoken English the apostrophe is irrelevant; in signs in shops that say Stickers and Tattoo’s (the Cape Science Centre, Feb 9) it doesn’t essentially matter: communication has been achieved and the shoppers know where to find the tattoos.
But if your job is to write English, or to edit English, you really do need to understand what to do with that little comma (and once you do you will go through daily life with a sense of well-deserved superiority every time you see it used wrong). So, here’s an edited explanation from an excellent (and very erudite) entry in Wikipedia :
The apostrophe ( ’ or ‘ ) is a punctuation mark in languages that use the Latin alphabet or certain other alphabets. In English, it serves three purposes:
* The marking of the omission of one or more letters (as in the contraction of do not to don’t).
* The marking of possessive case (as in the cat’s whiskers).
* The marking by some as plural of written items that are not words established in English orthography (as in P’s and Q’s). (This is considered incorrect by others. The use of the apostrophe to form plurals of proper words, as in apple’s, banana’s, etc., is universally considered incorrect.)
There you have it. You insert ‘ when letters are missing, or when there is a possessive. Not in front of the “s” at the end of any random word.
To figure out where it goes in the possessive, turn the phrase round. Is it:
The mines of the world
Then take the word world and add an ‘s: world’s
The mines of the worlds (if you are perhaps writing a science fiction novel)
Then take the worlds and add an ‘s: worlds’s
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