Apostrophes’ main use is for contractions, I think. More on that later.
Apostrophes are also used for quotes inside quotes; in fact, the rule is you alternate single and double quotes as you nest them.
The student told me, “Our teacher said ‘Don’t use the fire escape until I say “GO!”.’.”
Technically you don’t need spaces between the marks when they fall together, but I would have used them because I want you to be able to see clearly what I’m doing. But I lucked out because I need a period for each sentence.
Another use for apostrophes is to show possession. Technically that is also a contraction; the possessive used to be “-es,” and we took out the “e” and replaced it with an apostrophe.
Contractions. Perhaps the most common contraction is n’t for not, but you can use it to shorten verb forms, such as the present perfect: “could’ve” instead of “could have.” You can shorten the future, too: “we’ll” instead of “we will.”
Then sometimes jargon shortens words, and the correct way to show the shortening is with apostrophes, hence this Frazz:
And I ran into this verb-form shortening with an uncommon, but perfectly correct contraction, brothers’ve:
Here are two rules:
In formal writing, avoid most contractions. Don’t use them unless they improve the writing.
Nowadays, most of the time, the –n’t contraction is okay to use.
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We don’t have a contraction for the first person singular version of “I am not.” I clearly remember my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Clemens, telling us that the “correct” thing to say, when asking the question, is “Am I not?” “Ain’t” just wasn’t the polite way to say it. I remember thinking that “am I not” sounded awfully strange. (I’ve gotten used to it now, and sometimes I even say it.)
Anyway, people who don’t want to sound uncouth but also don’t want to sound pretentious, often say, “Aren’t I?” Sigh. That’s not right either.
Let’s face it—English doesn’t have the word. At least I certainly never hear “amn’t I” except in jest. Here’s a comic, Daddy’s Home, to illustrate most of the point. I couldn’t find one with “am I not” or “aren’t I.”
Here’s a comic I ran into recently. The parrot got three things right that a lot of folks get wrong. Bizarro is generally pretty funny, by the way, and I recommend it.
The first thing is he mentioned himself first. Yes, this is opposite of an aside I made in a recent post about case. Normally, out of humility, you’re supposed to mention yourself last, but it’s not necessary to put yourself behind inanimate objects, and he’s talking mainly about himself anyway.
Second, he used the correct case. Many people would have said “With crackers and I…” and this is wrong. Object of a preposition—use “me.”
Third, a lot of folks would have missed the apostrophe in “a thousand’s.” It’s a contraction of “thousand is.”
Fourth, he didn’t point out that his mistress had eaten a few too many crackers herself.