English in Use/Apostrophes

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An apostrophe can be used to form possessives for nouns, indicate the omission of letters in a word for stylistic purposes or as a colloquial form of a word, and be used to indicate plurality.

The term is derived from the Latin word apostrophus itself derived from the Greek words αποστροφος meaning accident of elision αποστρεφειν meaning a turning away.

The apostrophe usually denotes either the possessive case of a noun, or the elision of one or more letters of a word: as,

  • "The girl's regard to her parents' advice;"

'Gan, lov'd, e'en, thro'; for began, loved, even, through.

It is sometimes used in pluralizing a mere letter or sign: as,

  • "Two a's—three 6's."

Apostrophe is also a figure of speech in which an absent person, a personified inanimate being, or an abstraction, is addressed as though present.

This sense is maintained when a narrative or dramatic thread is broken in order to digress by speaking directly to someone not there, e.g.,

  • “Envy, be silent and attend!”—Alexander Pope.
  • “On a Certain Lady at Court.”