“Oh, your beauty has no parallel, my Apostrophe!”
“Philip Gross comments: ‘When I wrote this in the mid 1980’s,…” (Author’s comment on Son and Heir, quoted in “Poem for a Day” compiled and edited by Nicholas Albery)
Ah!! I saw this today and was absolutely flabbergasted. Poor, poor apostrophe. Abuse yet again. So, in defence of this dear little diacritical, or punctuation, mark, I decided to write this blogpost dedicated to Her memory.
So, what’s wrong with the above? Well, with the apostrophe positioned as it is, it denotes possession. So what has been written actually says: Something in the middle of what was possessed or owned by the year 1980. This is not what Mr Gross was aiming for. What he wanted to say was: At a point in the middle of the decade between 1980 and 1989… something happened. When talking of decades we need to use the plural. That is all. So, the above quote should have read: When I wrote this in the mid 1980s,… You see, no apostrophe is necessary at all. (as an aside, decades run from the year giving its number, e.g. 1960s – 1960 to 1969, or 1870s – 1870 to 1879; and centuries END before the year that gives them their number, e.g. 1900s – 1st January 1800 to 31st December 1899)
Having said all that, when do you use the dear old apostrophe? There are a number of rules summed up thus:
Possession: (singular) That is Donald Trump’s hand there. (plural) The students’ accommodation is over here.
elision: I’m (I am); She’s (She is or She has)
Contraction: Don’t (do not); Can’t (cannot)
Anything else is wrong and an affront to the most beautiful of all punctuation marks. So, from this day forth please treat Her with the respect she deserves…
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