Watch your tail

Bandits at six o’clock. By now, I expect you’re out in the street, arms outstretched, making neeeeawww noises and machine gunning the neighbours’ homes.

Okay, so maybe not! But I do want to check your tail: specifically, the tails on your apostrophes.

We are not going to look at apostrophes for possession today, perhaps I’ll cover that soon. Instead, we are going to look at apostrophes that are used for contractions: the shortening of words.

I’m going to assume that you’re working in Microsoft’s Word package, although I’m sure other word processing programs will function in similar ways.

Photo by Goochie Poochie Grooming on

This is not an article on when to use apostrophes for contraction. Words like don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t, are fairly obvious. Instead, we are going to look at some non-typical examples, ones where things get a bit too much for Word!

Apostrophes for contraction are frequently used to signify accent. People frequently drop letters in speech and authors need to capture that in writing. Let’s take an example:

Can you spot the difference? Which one is right?

Look at the apostrophe. Tails on apostrophes point to the left.

But, sadly, Word doesn’t always pick up on this. Look at your keyboard. The apostrophe sign is straight; Word does it’s best to assume which way to turn the tail. Unfortunately, when it comes to these sorts of words, it doesn’t know and assumes it’s going to put in a single opening quotation mark.

You’ll notice this in something obvious like this:

So how do we stop this? In MS Word, you could turn off the smart quotes setting in the AutoCorrect settings. This will keep all your quotation marks and apostrophes straight, which is one way.

The other way would be to manually insert the correct directional sign using the Insert tab and selecting Symbol.

Bear in mind, that the font you are writing in might not have directional apostrophes. But, just because that’s the font you are writing in, it might not be the font your book is published in, so it is worth checking at the proof stage. It’s something that a professional proofreader picks up on quickly and efficiently.

Your style guide, too, might require straight apostrophes. Look at this blog post and click through to the NHS style guide. They require straight ones, not curly ones!

If you’d like a professional to check your tails are all facing the right way, please get in touch today, I’d be delighted to hear about your project and how I can ensure your manuscript is typo free and ready for your readers.

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Fiction editor and proofreader.

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