[English] Apostrophe in doesn't, needn't, mustn't, etc

Akela

sum
Staff member
The discussion in the comma after the vocative reminded me of how odd the placement of the apostrophe in words like didn't, hadn't, won't, etc. seemed to me when initially learning English. After all these are two words connected - why is the apostrophe in the middle of the second word?

Years later, I got a chance to transcribe original letters from the WWI. The soldier writing abbreviated all of the "not" composites with an apostrophe before it - as "did'nt", "has'nt", "need'nt", etc.

Back then I had assumed that this was what the "not" abbreviation used to look like a century ago. Now, I am wondering: did it? Or did the writer not have the best education and abbreviated such words by sound?
 
Apostrophes should only appear where a letter has been missed out, even when two words have been tacked together. Since the 'o' in the various 'not' suffices has been omitted then that's where the apostrophe should go methinks. I'm thinking of other words like cupboard and bookshelf where the space between words has been omitted, atleast initially, but no apostrophe is used.

One thing that always trips me up is where to put the apostrophe(s) in the word little when it is abbreviated to lil.
I would instinctively write li'l and I've seen others write lil' but technically, if it should be in place of any omitted letters it should be li'l' which looks disgusting XD.

Interesting story about the WWI letters. I haven't read enough letters from the period to know whether it was norm or just one bad scribe lol.
 

Adrian

Civis Illustris
Personally I have never encountered (or more precisely don't recall having encountered) apostrophe contractions like "did'nt", "has'nt", "need'nt". I assume it must have been an archaic grammatic rule.
 

Nikolaos

schmikolaos
Staff member
They don't necessarily need to be everywhere that you find missing letters, nor does the word necessarily have to make sense if the letters I put in. I've seen "addtl" for "additional" with one apostrophe (I think it was before the L), and "won't" (not "wo'n't" or "wi'n't") and "ain't" don't make sense as "wo not" or "ai not".
 

Iohannes Aurum

Technicus Auxiliarius
The English genitive was originally -es, which later became the present-day 's.
 

Manus Correctrix

QVAE CORRIGIT
Back then I had assumed that this was what the "not" abbreviation used to look like a century ago. Now, I am wondering: did it? Or did the writer not have the best education and abbreviated such words by sound?
It was just a misspelling. You see people occasionally doing it these days. It comes from thinking the apostrophe divides words when it really replaces letters.

They don't necessarily need to be everywhere that you find missing letters, nor does the word necessarily have to make sense if the letters I put in. I've seen "addtl" for "additional" with one apostrophe (I think it was before the L), and "won't" (not "wo'n't" or "wi'n't") and "ain't" don't make sense as "wo not" or "ai not".
“Shan’t” is another one like that. In old texts, you can see “sha’n’t”. “Won’t” has the excuse that the “ll” wasn’t really lost, but rather the “ill” transformed into “o”.
 

Adrian

Civis Illustris
Mary Ellen Guffey, Carolyn M. Seefer, Business English
Apostrophe is one of the most frequently misused punctuation marks. Apostrophe in business and formal correspondence should only be applied to indicate noun possessives (even then a prepositional phrase is prefered). Any form of contraction should be avoided.
 

Adrian

Civis Illustris
They are. It would raise eyebrows to see them written into state code or a quarterly report.
Opus Cite, p. 68
Execeptional Rules:
Isolated (standing alone) lowercase letters and the capital letters A, I, M, and U are made plural with an ’s for clarity. Without the apostrophe,
these letters might be confused with other words, such as the verb is or the abbreviation Ms.
A’s M’s
 

Manus Correctrix

QVAE CORRIGIT
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