Apostrophes in contractions explained

Do you ever look at some words containing apostrophes and have no idea what they mean? That might be because we use apostrophes for different reasons in English. (If you don't know what an apostrophe is, it's the little single "comma" in the air between some letters that I have just used twice in this sentence).

Apostrophes have many grammatical uses, each with their own rules, exceptions to those rules and controversy among scholars surrounding the correct way to use them in each instance. This article, however, will only be concerned with the use of apostrophes in contraction, meaning where they are used in the place of letters to make words or sentences shorter.

One reason for this is that native speakers sometimes speak very fast, and when we try to reflect that in writing, we have to leave some letters (or even words) out to make it more natural. For example, when I want to tell someone that I am not able to attend a meeting, it would sound more natural to say "I can't make it", than to say "I cannot make it". In this instance, the apostrophe replaces the "not" part of the word.

Another reason can be that a writer might simply be too lazy to write out a whole word. It is much quicker to write, or even type, "I don't think it's possible" than to write or type "I do not think it is possible".

Yet another reason is that in some dialects, that is simply the way people speak as a variation of English known to a certain geographic region, social class or time period and that an author wants to stay true to that for the sake of a certain character. For example, a typical American cowboy in a novel would for sure rather say "ain't my fault", than "that is not my fault". It is still perfectly accepted English, if perhaps not "proper".

So, if you find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed by a bunch of apostrophes, just remember these few explanations. Remember, however, that the above mentioned are not the only ways that apostrophes are used. Stay posted for my follow up article, and I will explain some more uses! Until next time!
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