You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and Its Allies

By Eric Partridge | Go to book overview

Chapter 18

THE APOSTROPHE

THE apostrophe, indicated by', has been adopted from the French, which took it from Latin apostrophus, itself from Greek 'he apostrophos prosōdia', the accent of turning away (apostrephein, to turn away)-that is, of elision or omission. There has been some confusion with apostrophe (from Gr. apostrophē)-that rhetorical figure which consists of an exclamatory address to some person or thing.


§ 1:

Strictly Irrelevant *

It serves to close a quotation, as in:

'He was a strange fellow'.

When double quotation marks are employed, the quotation closes with a pair of apostrophes-more strictly, with a pair of quotation marks, thus:

“He was a strange fellow”.


§ 2:

Omission

An apostrophe indicates the omission either of a letter, or letters, or of a figure, or figures, whether initially or medially or finally.

Initially:

'Fraid I cannot manage it (afraid).

In '39, as you remember, war broke out (1939).

Medially:

The man is a ne'er-do-well (never).

I fear I can't manage it (cannot).

Finally:

In a muzzy voice he muttered, 'My house was burn' down last night' (burnt).

It'll do, he'd say. (It will do, he would say.)

* Irrelevant, because only in shape does a final quotation mark resemble a final apostrophe. French, for instance, uses «....» to indicate quotation.

-155-

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