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There’s been some correspondence in the British press recently about punctuation, and in particular the apostrophe, with one writer at least saying that as you don’t hear the apostrophe when you speak, you don’t really need to write it – what purpose does it serve?

Well, most punctuation isn’t heard. While full stops and commas, and some question marks, mark the intonation pattern, which we do hear, most other punctuation marks, and all apostrophes and capital letters, are as silent as the initial “w” in “wrong”. To go even further, most word divisions can’t be heard either. We put them in to make it easier for the reader to understand quickly what he or she is reading. Try this:


Not easy. Imagine whole paragraphs written like that. Early writing didn’t make the divisions, but at some stage writers decided that it was convenient to put a space between words. Later still, punctuation marks were gradually introduced. The apostrophe was quite a recent innovation, again because writers felt the need for it. Now it is a question of courtesy to the reader to use it according to the accepted rules, so that it takes less time to scan the passage and get the maximum amount of meaning out of it.



One Comment

  1. That writer is either really stupid or thinks he’s clever as he’s just found a way of getting himself mentioned in the press! However, I can’t see it being the key to his success!

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