Apostrophes and being wrong

The problem with being opinionated about something is that it can be much harder to admit that you’re wrong.

For many years now I’ve bemoaned the use of U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK to represent an apostrophe in text, when clearly the correct character is U+0027 APOSTROPHE. The clue is right there in the name!

Except no, I’ve been wrong about it all this time. A colleague pointed out that I was wrong, and my immediate reaction was “I disagree with your assertion, [see here are the character names]”. However, the problem was that I hadn’t read the full text in the unicode standard.

Here’s the entry for U+0027 APOSTROPHE:

0027    APOSTROPHE
        = apostrophe-quote (1.0)
        = APL quote
        * neutral (vertical) glyph with mixed usage
        * 2019 is preferred for apostrophe
        * preferred characters in English for paired quotation marks are 2018 & 2019
        * 05F3 is preferred for geresh when writing Hebrew
        x (modifier letter prime - 02B9)
        x (modifier letter apostrophe - 02BC)
        x (modifier letter vertical line - 02C8)
        x (combining acute accent - 0301)
        x (hebrew punctuation geresh - 05F3)
        x (prime - 2032)
        x (latin small letter saltillo - A78C)

and here’s the one for U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK:

2019    RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK
        = single comma quotation mark
        * this is the preferred character to use for apostrophe
        x (apostrophe - 0027)
        x (modifier letter apostrophe - 02BC)
        x (heavy single comma quotation mark ornament - 275C)

Within both of those, it very clearly states that U+2019 is the preferred character to use for apostrophe.

So, I was wrong, and this post is an apology to those I have wronged over this matter in the past. Sorry!

Would be nice if they weren’t so confusingly named though!

Join the Conversation

  1. There are those who simply misuse the apostrophe, as in “The dog slept in it’s own bed”. No apostrophe necessary.

    1. Of course, mistakes with apostrophes when it comes to contractions, possesives and plurals within the English language itself are incredibly common. To me the “it’s/its” mistake is one of the more understandable ones, as in other possessive cases (eg. “The dog slept in Brian’s bed”), an apostrophe is used, so it’s easy to see why someone could get it wrong.

      Far harder to forgive is when an apostrophe is used for a plural, eg. “cabbage’s for sale”…

  2. Interesting. For me, the key word here in those character definitions is “preferred”. It’s like me saying, when it comes to vegetables, I prefer to eat beans, rather than carrots. Both of them are still considered to be vegetables.

    Neither of those character standards states that these characters “should not” be used for apostrophe marks, it is just that one is preferred over the other. At least, that’s what I get from it.

    1. Oh absolutely, yes. But I’ve been correcting people for using the “wrong” one, and in some cases replacing them with the “right” one in code bases I manage. And I’ve now learnt that I was misguided in doing so, which is … unfortunate.

      1. Many times,, when I’m converting an e-book from Project Gutenberg for my Franklin eBookman, I have to spend time converting those “special characters” to something the eBookman can recognize. I’m speculating that one of those characters is the U+0027 apostrophe; changing to the U+0029 apostrophe. I’m also guessing that those who are creating texts for the Gutenberg project probably think the same way you did, as in which apostrophe to use. Can be confusing, for sure.

  3. The apostrophe character ‘ is a legacy from the days before Unicode.
    Typographical ‘single quotes,’ and “double quotes” are designed in most fonts to distinguish where a quote opens and where it closes. Languages other than English use different styles, such as base quotes, or angled quotes. Autocorrect in word-processors will automatically swap straight quotes to curly quotes, detecting the right context.
    It is not just a matter of personal preference, but one of good style. Putting other punctuation inside or outside of “quotes,” is also a matter of style. US style guides put them “outside”, while UK style guides put them “inside.”

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