That Pesky Apostrophe – Lesson 2: Case of the Missing Letter

In Lesson 1 you learned a couple of simple scenarios about the possessive apostrophe (Mark’s fishing pole; Agnes’s or Agnes’ kayak if you need a memory jog).

shutterstock_240715297Lesson 2 examines another apostrophe personality, the lazy substitute. Too tired to just spell it out? Throw in an apostrophe and be done with it. English grammar calls these words contractions. The apostrophe is substituted for a letter that goes missing. Familiar examples are: don’t for do not (the “o” in “not” is replace), “I’ve” for “I have,” where the apostrophe has power of attorney for multiple letters in the contraction.

When and why would you use contractions?

The rules for using contractions are not hard and fast. Whether you are speaking or writing, the use of contractions instead of “whole words” convey a sense of informality to the communication. About.com (http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/EnglishContractions.htm) recommends considering the audience and tone you mean to convey in the communication when deciding whether to use contractions. To sound formal, professional and business-like, do not use contractions.

To sound casual, such as in personal blog posts, personal emails and other relaxed communications, don’t hesitate to use a contraction.

Contraction Pitfalls – No, Make that Minefield

Unless “grammar check” is turned on in your favorite app or software, not all auto-correct tools will catch errors of contraction versus possession. So keep these examples handy and when in doubt, play them back in your mind to recall if an apostrophe applies:

Possessive (Lesson 1): Its nose was cold on my hand as Ginger begged to be petted. No apostrophe.

Contraction (Lesson 2): It’s a fine day to take Ginger to the dog park for a walk. Short for “it is.”

Last But Not Least

Words or phrases I’ve heard all my life I never thought of as contractions:

Six o’ clock (six of the clock)

Jack o’ Lantern (Jack of the lantern)

Yes ma’am (madam)

‘twas (here’s one that starts with a missing letter, no less) for “it was”

For a comprehensive list of common and uncommon contractions, visit: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/grammar/contractions/list.shtml.

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