What do apostrophes have to do with the federal holiday this Friday? Well, there’s a confusing apostrophe in Veterans’ Day—or is there? Veterans Day is often incorrectly written as “Veteran’s Day” or “Veterans’ Day.” “Veteran’s Day” would definitely be incorrect because it means a day for only one veteran. While “Veterans’ Day” does encompass multiple veterans, that spelling is incorrect according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (also without an apostrophe). In the name of the holiday, the word “veterans” acts as an attributive noun, which means that it behaves like an adjective even though it is a noun. We use attributive nouns all the time without realizing it. For example, if you said “Last week, I went to the Cowboys game”, it is not grammatically imperative to include an apostrophe at the end of Cowboys, because Cowboys acts as an attributive noun.
(To resolve another confusing clause, learn whether daylight-saving time or daylight savings time is correct here.)
Apostrophes pop up where you least expect them, and their misuse distorts meaning and clarity. They are tricky little punctuation marks with multiple uses. Unlike commas and periods, they can actually take the place of letters (when used in contractions), and they also reveal the relationships between different parts of a clause when they make a noun possessive. Contractions—like they’ve, what’s, and she’ll—are almost as old as the English language. They reflect how we combine syllables in natural speech, and they are observed in written language as far back as Old English. In Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, thou art is spelled thart. Shakespeare also used them frequently in order to adhere to the meter of his plays. The antiquated word ’tis is a contraction of it and is; the first sound is removed instead of the middle syllable as is common today in the contraction it’s.
How about that other confusing apostrophe question—what’s with it’s and its? This is one of the most common grammatical errors seen throughout the English-speaking world. One means it is or it has and the other “belonging to it,” but which is which? In modern English, we use ‘s to signify possession because of the Old English grammar that added an s to display the genitive case, or the “of relationship.” Instead of saying, “That is the house of Jack,” with ‘s you only have to say, “That is Jack’s house.” You might assume, then, that it’s means “belonging to it.” However, its is not a possessive like “Jack’s house,” but rather a possessive pronoun (like hers, theirs, and ours) that does not require an apostrophe. So if you want to say “the pages of that book,” you say “its pages.” And as we’ve discussed, its brother it’s is a contraction that combines it with is or has as in “It’s been a long day’s night.”
Do you confuse it’s and its? What do you think of apostrophes?
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