The word apostrophe has two meanings.
- The one for which most students seek guidance is a punctuation mark. It is used for two main reasons, to show:
- You may be interested in the changing history of the possessive use of the apostrophe demonstrated in the website of Queen's College (more formally "The Queen's College of St Margaret and St Bernard, commonly called Queens' College, in the University of Cambridge" at Cambridge: see "That Apostrophe" at []
Etymological note: The two meanings of the word apostrophe come from the same root, in two different directions. The name of the punctuation mark comes, via French and Latin, from a Greek [[adjective] ὰποστροφος, used to stand for a two word phrase, meaning (a mark) 'of turning away, or elision' (OED). The name of the Figure of speech comes from the same Greek root; but here it visualizes an actor turning away from the scene and addressing, for example, the heavens. This meaning is derived from the verb, , άποστρέφειν 'to turn away', from which the adjective arose.
The punctuation mark used to mark possession records (faintly) the relics of the Old English genitive case, which was written -es: when the -e- ceased to be pronounced, its omission was marked by an apostrophe.
The two meanings might be distinguished by their pronunciation - but they are not. For etymological purity, the punctuation mark "ought to be of three syllables in Eng[lish] as in French ['a-p'str-OFF', IPA: /æ pə ˈstrɒf/]" , according to the OED. The pronunciation with four syllables 'er-POS-trer-fi' (/æ (or ə) ˈpɒst rəf ɪ/), nowadays current for all meanings, should be reserved for the figure of Speech. According to the OED, the name of the punctuation mark "has been ignorantly confused with" the other word. This happened a long time ago.