Apostrophes and standard language

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Victoria32

Senior Member
English (UK) New Zealand
Mod note - split from this thread http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=238070.

So you can't tell me where the rule comes from? The rule which decrees that 'less' is *wrong*...What on earth do you mean by 'wrong'?

Apostrophes *are* another convention. Other similar languages manage without them. Even in standard English, the 'rule' for their use is partially illogical. We don't have them in speech and the language doesn't break down. No less a writer than GB Shaw thought they were pretty stupid on the whole. I use them unfailingly myself, even in emails, but it's more to do with creating an impression than logic.
Convention or not, apostrophes are very important in written language (we don't need them in speech).
Its. It's.
Enough said!
Punctuation and grammar rules are all about clarity.
 
  • gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    As I said in the thread cited, the "adjective" less is taking over, it still grates on my ear-- and once again, advertising and political speech are the culprits.

    But stupid is happy, I'm finding out, to my unutterable dismay. I've got a whole lotta dumbing down to do-- but I'm making good regress.

    Maybe you haven't got as far to go as you think; or to put it another way, I resent your implication that there's something stupid about people who use 'less than' where you would use 'fewer than'. As I've said elsewhere, most languages don't make this distinction; it's nothing more than a grammarian's rule, based on what was once commoner usage. There's nothing inherently superior or intellectual about it, as you seem to think!
     

    gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    Convention or not, apostrophes are very important in written language (we don't need them in speech).
    Its. It's.
    Enough said!
    Punctuation and grammar rules are all about clarity.

    So you think Shaw hadn't a clue?

    "Its raining."

    What could possibly be unclear about that?

    "The dog's dinner. Its dinner."

    What happened to the logic in that?

    Etc etc.
     

    roxcyn

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English [AmE]
    Its dinner can be ambiguous:

    Its dinner: The dog's dinner (The dog will eat)

    Or It's dinner: It is dinner (time) = Let's eat, family!

    Of course, many examples are not ambiguous, but there are some.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Reading a sentence where its has been written as it's is rather difficult for me. It disrupts my flow of reading because I have to look around and see if it's a mistake or I misunderstood something. It's bad enough they're phonetically identical, but no need to make it impossible to read!
     

    gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    Its dinner can be ambiguous:

    Its dinner: The dog's dinner (The dog will eat)

    Or It's dinner: It is dinner (time) = Let's eat, family!

    Of course, many examples are not ambiguous, but there are some.

    As one contains a verb and the other doesn't, in practice -- i.e. in context -- it's hard to imagine how there could actually be ambiguity. And even when there is ambiguity in practice, the brain is usually more than capable of working out from other clues what was intended.

    For example, if I asked you if you had the dog's dinner (because it was hungry) and you asked 'whose dinner?' (perhaps thinking I might have mentioned the cat), and I replied, 'Its dinner' (pointing towards the dog), you would hardly expect me to have chosen that moment to announce that it's time for the whole family to eat, would you? (This applies as much to the written language as the spoken.)

    As much I like the apostrophe, it's a superfluous nicety.
     

    gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    Reading a sentence where its has been written as it's is rather difficult for me. It disrupts my flow of reading because I have to look around and see if it's a mistake or I misunderstood something. It's bad enough they're phonetically identical, but no need to make it impossible to read!

    It's certainly an irritation, but it can only happen because we have the apostrophe and many people are unsure about how to use it. So we either need better education systems or to get rid of the apostrophe :)
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    If you get rid of the apostrophe then all such sentences where genitive it might be a possibility would confuse me. English is the only language I know where these two very different concept 'it is' and 'genitive it' are so close they can easily be mistaken. Of course, the confusion is based in the relentless contraction of words in English - something that causes confusion in other cases too :)
     

    gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    If you get rid of the apostrophe then all such sentences where genitive it might be a possibility would confuse me. English is the only language I know where these two very different concept 'it is' and 'genitive it' are so close they can easily be mistaken. Of course, the confusion is based in the relentless contraction of words in English - something that causes confusion in other cases too :)

    But you have to cope with any confusion in the spoken language anyway, because there's no audible apostrophe in spoken English -- so it surely can't be so bad?

    Besides, the syntax of any phrase containing its/it's makes confusion very difficult:

    it's is nearly always followed immediately by a verb in the -ing form, an adverb, adjective or a noun preceded by a determiner (a, the etc).

    its is nearly always followed by a noun (phrase) without a determiner


    Or to put it very simply, if what follows its/it's is a noun (phrase) without a determiner, then the word must be "its". In virtually all other cases it'd be "it's".
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Maybe you're right, it might be easier to eliminate the apostrophe altogether since it's very confusing when people use it incorrectly. However, the same goes for your/you're and similar examples, and those cannot be spelled identically for sure.

    And as I mentioned before, these troubles all come from the abundance of contractions in English..
     

    Jim 89

    Member
    Sydney, Australia. English
    gwrthgymdeithasol, what about "don't". If the apostrophe were removed from "don't", you'd get "dont" which looks like it should rhyme with "font". That's one reason why apostrophes are necessary.
     

    gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    gwrthgymdeithasol, what about "don't". If the apostrophe were removed from "don't", you'd get "dont" which looks like it should rhyme with "font". That's one reason why apostrophes are necessary.

    Well, funny you should ask, but on the shelf beside me as I sit here reside the complete works of GB Shaw, and he famously insisted on writing (and having published) "dont". I found it a bit of an irritation at first, I admit, but he was an ardent believer in the need for spelling reform in English, even leaving money in his will for a new alphabet to be formed (one which had no place for the apostrophe!), and there's no denying the huge number of inconsistencies in the orthography.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Some languages never (or almost never) use apostrophes and others use them constantly. I'm fine with either, but in English the contraction of words where some letters are elided and words are joined makes for some scenarios where confusion is never far away.

    Anyway, I don't mean to sound dismissive of English. I like the language, I just think it's somewhat of a weak point.
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    gwrthgymdeithasol, what about "don't". If the apostrophe were removed from "don't", you'd get "dont" which looks like it should rhyme with "font". That's one reason why apostrophes are necessary.
    I disagree. "Don't" isn't pronounced according to any rules, it's not pronounced neither as "dont" nor as "do not". After all, I think it doesn't matter if there's an apostrophe or not.
     

    Jim 89

    Member
    Sydney, Australia. English
    I disagree. "Don't" isn't pronounced according to any rules, it's not pronounced neither as "dont" nor as "do not". After all, I think it doesn't matter if there's an apostrophe or not.

    "don't" is pronounced to rhyme with "won't", not rhyming with "font".
     

    Victoria32

    Senior Member
    English (UK) New Zealand
    So you think Shaw hadn't a clue?

    "Its raining."

    What could possibly be unclear about that?

    "The dog's dinner. Its dinner."

    What happened to the logic in that?

    Etc etc.
    Change takes time... Yes, in some respects Shaw had fewer clues than in others.. :)

    Have you read Lynne Truss' book? (Another apostrophe... avoiding the ugly sibilants that would otherwise ensue...)

    She puts it all much better than I could. Grammar isn't my strong point as a language teacher!
     

    Victoria32

    Senior Member
    English (UK) New Zealand
    It's certainly an irritation, but it can only happen because we have the apostrophe and many people are unsure about how to use it. So we either need better education systems or to get rid of the apostrophe :)
    I vote for better education systems!
    Well, funny you should ask, but on the shelf beside me as I sit here reside the complete works of GB Shaw, and he famously insisted on writing (and having published) "dont". I found it a bit of an irritation at first, I admit, but he was an ardent believer in the need for spelling reform in English, even leaving money in his will for a new alphabet to be formed (one which had no place for the apostrophe!), and there's no denying the huge number of inconsistencies in the orthography.
    The orthography is an issue for Asian students, but it would be anyway, without apostrophes. For others, it's (it is) not such a problem. Iwas chatting with a couple of Italians this morning, and I lazily skip accents - now there's a problem!
    Both "don't" and "won't" aren't pronounced according to any rules. They are rhyming with each other but not with any "ordinary" words.
    Good example, Hakro! There is an English word wont which could be confused with won't.. (Lucky it is a largely archaic word, eh?)
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Maybe you haven't got as far to go as you think; or to put it another way, I resent your implication that there's something stupid about people who use 'less than' where you would use 'fewer than'. As I've said elsewhere, most languages don't make this distinction; it's nothing more than a grammarian's rule, based on what was once commoner usage. There's nothing inherently superior or intellectual about it, as you seem to think!
    Well, you're on a vitriolic romp, and it doesn't take much to touch you off. Bad day at the racetrack?

    So you think advertising and political speech aren't stupid. You can express that dubious opinion without gratuitous insults to me or any other handy target here.

    "Less medications" might be the answer.
    .
    .
     

    gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    Have you read Lynne Truss' book? (Another apostrophe... avoiding the ugly sibilants that would otherwise ensue...)

    She puts it all much better than I could.

    Yes -- but the really great read is her "Talk to the Hand"; I think one or two of the posters here get a mention...!



    Grammar isn't my strong point as a language teacher!

    I think that's my quote of the year -- brilliant! :)
     

    gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    Well, you're on a vitriolic romp, and it doesn't take much to touch you off. Bad day at the racetrack?

    So you think advertising and political speech aren't stupid. You can express that dubious opinion without gratuitous insults to me or any other handy target here.

    Let me quote your own words that led to my comment:

    Anyone with unresolved issues with the less/fewer debate should check it out.

    But stupid is happy, I'm finding out, to my unutterable dismay. I've got a whole lotta dumbing down to do-- but I'm making good regress. I wake up with less marbles every morning, and fewer problems.

    To which you now add a few more, such as

    "Less medications" might be the answer.

    It seems to me you're the one doing the major insulting, insinuating that anyone who doesn't agree with you that 'less than' is stupid where you think 'fewer than' ought to be is an idiot. Well, I don't agree with you, nor do many others, and let me tell you, we're not idiots for thinking that way. Your saddle's too high.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    For what it's worth, the words 'less' and 'fewer' exist in other languages as well and carry similar distinctions. They are typically not interchangeable.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    For the benefit of those whose interest in punctuation and apostrophes is related to passing exams please note that this has been a discussion on the merits and otherwise of non-standard variants.
     
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