Fixing the apostrophe with two marks for two purposes

2014-08-18

in Geek stuff, Rants, Writing

Both for people who are new to English and for life-long speakers, one of the most consistently confusing aspects of the language is the apostrophe.

Theres a pretty straightforward reason for this, I think, and its one that could be addressed fairly easily if people are willing to consider a minor linguistic change. There are two main uses for the apostrophe:

  • Indicating possession, as in: “The cat’s bed is beside the dog’s bed, on the floor between Carol’s bed and Peter’s bed” and
  • Indicating a contraction, as in: “I’ve noticed there’s not a lot of time ’til Christmas”

This dual use is most problematic insofar as it causes it’s/its errors. People are naturally used to seeing the apostrophe as a marker for possession, so “The dog is vexed by it’s fleas” seems intuitive.

A simple solution would be to use two different marks for the two different purposes. Since possession seems to be the use that is most intuitive for people, I would suggest using the new mark for contractions. A superscript dagger wouldnt change the look of printed text too much. Furthermore, the character is already included in nearly all typefaces, and isnt widely used for any purpose that isnt equally well served by a numbered footnote. People who chose to make the change wouldnt confuse people excessively, and English’s reputation as an incoherent hodgepodge of a language might be somewhat mitigated.

The problems with apostrophes also connect to the awkward issues involved in indicating plurality and possession for words the always end in ‘s’, over which there is no agreement even among pedantic language experts. Using two punctuation marks wouldnt settle that, but it may help reduce the odds of error.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

anon August 18, 2014 at 10:29 pm

“Is this a dagger I see before me?”

Chortle, chortle

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