Writing tip: how to place a correct apostrophe?

A pretty sign, that apostrophe. Unfortunately one that can be used much less often than I would have liked. Because if you encounter it in the wild, it often has no place there – at least as long as you are in the German-speaking world. In English and French it may appear much more frequently. This tip is not about the question if Tanja is allowed to call her pub "Tanja’s Trinkerstubchen" or not. But about how the pub sign should look like.

Apostrophe characters in the circle

Most people have heard of the "dork apostrophe" and prefer to look up where the apostrophe is allowed and where it is not (for example, here). However, it is much less known that not every little stroke somewhere in the upper half of the line really passes as an apostrophe. Which is why I always cringe when I see a character on store signs, logos, or flyers that is obviously supposed to be an apostrophe, but definitely isn’t one. It’s a pity if something like this cost a lot of money and then contains a typographical error!

The correct apostrophe: a "Neunerle"

Apostrophes in different fonts

A real apostrophe has the shape of a small nine in many fonts. In others, it’s a slanted stroke, but usually the nine-shape is still recognizable by the thickening upward and the slight rightward slope. Once you have consciously considered the character as a "nine", the forgeries are immediately obvious.

Automatic conversion – but not always

Word and other word processing programs are usually preset so that an apostrophe appears in the document when the minute sign is entered. The minute sign is the small vertical line that can often be found above the # sign.

Minute characters on the keyboard

For this, however, a check mark must be set in the Autoformat settings for "Replace on input: Replace straight quotes with typographic ones". If it is missing, there are small vertical minute signs in the text, not apostrophes.

Of course, these characters also appear in programs that do not perform automatic conversion, such as in the e-mail program. Of course, they are perceived as apostrophes when reading, and it is often a pragmatic decision to put them like this. For logos, printed matter, or anything that needs to have an external effect, the minute sign is taboo – it is simply not an apostrophe.

Set the right sign

But how do you get the correct apostrophe?? At Windows computers use this key combination:

ALT + 0146

That means: simply enter 0146 via the numeric keypad while holding down the ALT key.

At Mac is the key combination:

ALT + SHIFT + #

In many programs, the apostrophe is of course also included in the special character sets and can be inserted via Insert> Reach special characters.

More pseudo-apostrophes

As I said: If you work a lot with word processing programs, the minute sign is usually converted to an apostrophe. However, it is worth to check again if this worked correctly.

Opening and closing single quotes

If you want to put an apostrophe at the beginning of a word ("Have you got a mark??"), then the machine logic turns it into a single opening quotation mark, puts the nine at the bottom of the line. In other cases a single closing quotation mark, which is at the top, but has the shape of a small six, not a nine as in the apostrophe.

Again and again I also see apostrophes being confused with accents. Admittedly, if you enter an accent aigu or an accent grave followed by a space, an oblique stroke appears. But it is much too slanted to even come close to passing as an apostrophe. Even the minute sign is a better choice.

Accent mark

So let’s hope that Tanja reads this article before opening her pub. Then it probably better double-checks whether it orders the sign for "Tanja’s Trinkerstubchen" with the correct "Neunerle". And the question of whether an apostrophe is allowed there at all can be discussed over the first round of beers.

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