By DARSHANIE PREMATILAKE
An apostrophe is a powerful punctuation mark which can change the meaning of a sentence, just by changing its position in a word.
An apostrophe gives two meanings: (1) possession (2) contraction.
Possession: To give the meaning of ‘belong to’.
For example, look at these two words: Girl’s, Girls’
Here, the apostrophe is placed before ‘s’. This signifies the possession of one girl. Eg. Girl’s hair band (the hair band belong to one girl).
Similarly, cat’s plate means ‘plate of a cat’ and doll’s house means ‘house of a doll’.
Here, the apostrophe is placed after ‘s’. This denotes the possession of many girls. Eg. Girls’ hostel (the hostel where many girls live).
Same way, cats’ plate means the plate belonging to several cats and dolls’ house means the house belongs to several dolls.
However, in plural nouns (e.g. people, children), the apostrophe is placed before ‘s’ as the noun already gives the many meaning.
So, it is a children’s playground; NOT childrens’ playground.
A word can be shortened by omitting some letters and placing the apostrophe at the site of the missing letters.
Eg. it’s (it is, or it has), don’t (do not), what’s (what is, or what has), it’ll (it will), you’ll (you will), doesn't (does not), you've (you have), I've (I have)
What happens if there is no apostrophe?
When an apostrophe is not used before or after ‘s’, then the word becomes a plural. E.g. Girls are playing (meaning many girls). This does not give the meaning of ‘belong to’.
Thus, girl’s, girls’, and girls are three words with three different meanings.
The following writing was displayed outside a school building:
Old Girl’s (2008)
The writer wanted to say that this building was constructed using the funds donated by the Old Girls’ Association (2008).
However, the meaning of the writing was that a single old girl of the school donated the building!
This was on the wall for some time until somebody detected the mistake and corrected it:
Old Girls’ (2008).
Apostrophes can be very tricky. Insert the apostrophe at the correct position to convey the exact message to your audience, and it’ll greatly improve your writing.