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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Richardson

Apostrophe Woes

The apostrophe. Such an innocuous punctuation that people throw it in willy nilly all the time. However, as useful as the apostrophe is for showing something is all yours or to combine two words, it can cause headaches for translations. Part of this is because people do not know how to use it properly: yes, even trained writers. Many people throw it in at the end of a word to make it plural where it is not necessary:

“The 1980’s were a great time.”

What of the 1980s was a great time? I need to know what belongs to the 1980s! Hair bands? Slap bracelets? There were so many great things about the 1980s; it could be anything! Which is where the problems come in for translation when the apostrophe is not used correctly. The grammar of this sentence is thrown off if it is treated as a possessive.

Even if it is used correctly, it can still cause issues for translations. For example, the word “don’t.” If you are not familiar with the contraction “don’t,” you may not know what letter is being replaced by the apostrophe. Is it “do not”? Is it “donut”? Who knows! Well, we know that it’s “do not,” but others that do not have English as their first language may not know this and you might end up with a funny translation.

How do we avoid these issues? Simple: do not use apostrophes. You can either make items compound nouns or use a preposition that gets the same point across:

“1980’s movies make it seem like a simpler time” can be changed to “Movies from the 1980s make it seem like a simpler time.”

“The unit’s display is on the front of the unit” can be changed to “The display is on the front of the unit.”

The one exception to not using possessives would be “its.” The word “its” is still fine to use and is understood.

Just remember when you are writing content that will be translated, keep it simple, direct, and remove apostrophes.

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