Are apostrophes an academic punctuation mark?
This is the first of four lessons about Apostrophes. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Introduce the apostrophe as a type of punctuation mark
– Discuss the history and functions of the apostrophe
– Explain how apostrophes may be used in academic English
How to correctly punctuate a sentence is an important topic for anyone that wishes to write clearly and accurately. Whether you’re a native or non-native speaker of English, if you’re using this language to publish your writing, to conduct academic research or to submit an assessed assignment, you’ll probably need to be 100% accurate with all aspects of punctuation – from commas to full stops and colons.
This short four-lesson course focuses specifically on the apostrophe (’) in the English language. This punctuation mark will be broadly discussed in Lesson 1, its two major functions and rules explored in Lessons 2 and 3, with Lesson 4 providing guidance about how to avoid the most commonly made mistakes when using apostrophes in context. Once you’ve finished carefully reading these four lessons, consider next unlocking and accessing our beginner, intermediate and advanced professional worksheets about this topic to check your progress and understanding.
Which punctuation mark is the apostrophe?
There are many punctuation marks currently in use in the English language, but few provide as many problems or controversy as the apostrophe. As can be seen below, the apostrophe is identical in shape to the single closing quotation mark:
It’s common for students to make mistakes with this punctuation mark, having a tendency to overuse the apostrophe by adding it to constructions in which it doesn’t belong. In truth, the apostrophe has only two primary functions. These functions are (1) to demonstrate the omission (deletion) of letters within a word, and (2) to show the ownership (possession) of one concept or object over another. However, as can be seen in the following table, some English speakers also consider apostrophes to have a third function, which is to show the pluralisation of lower-case letters:
What’s the history of the apostrophe?
The apostrophe was apparently introduced into the English language through an imitation of French punctuation in the 16th century, with the term ‘apostrophe’ being of Greek origin and meaning ‘turning away or deleting’. This punctuation mark was first used in English to inform the reader of when a vowel had been omitted (‘I’m’, from ‘I am’) or to replace a letter that no longer represented a sound (‘lov’d’, from ‘loved’). As is normal within a language however, the apostrophe later evolved – broadening its use to include aspects of possession and pluralisation.
In modern English, the apostrophe has created much discussion about its continuing purpose in the grammar. While some grammarians strongly defend the correct use of the apostrophe (some going as far as to correct the street signs and restaurant menus that use the mark incorrectly), other linguists have stated that the apostrophe is “largely decorative” and offers little clarity to the language, arguing that this punctuation mark should be removed from English altogether. Our opinion at Academic Marker is that as long as prescriptive grammars and referencing styles such as Harvard or Chicago recommend including the apostrophe, students of academic English should use this mark accurately too.
Can apostrophes be used in academic writing?
Of all the punctuation marks, the apostrophe may actually be one of the least helpful for academics, with Functions 1 and 3 being rarely used. While it’s certainly the case that students will be required to demonstrate possession within their writing, it’s rarely the case that omission or such an informal method of pluralisation will be acceptable. Though common in speech, omission using an apostrophe is particularly unlikely because such contracted forms as ‘hadn’t’ (from ‘had not’) or ‘shouldn’t’ (from ‘should not’) are generally considered to be inappropriate in academic contexts. The only time that a student of English for Academic Purposes may need to use such forms is when providing a direct quotation from another author or source – in which case, these marks should still be written accurately.
Even though the apostrophe may be less commonly used in academia than in more informal contexts, it’s still advisable that you read Lessons 2, 3 and 4 to learn more about how to correctly use this punctuation mark in your own writing.
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