Fix possessives, plurals, and contractions forever with this one incomprehensible English orthography trick

by worstideas

The horrifying issue:

The “apostrophe + s” ending in English has multiple meanings. This can be confusing.

possessive-apostrophe

Fig 1: Hypothesis: the apostrophe (as seen above) is a poor choice of symbol for indicating possession.

Here are some examples of a few applications of ’s (or s’ ) :

  1. Singular possession (“The cat’s tail.”)
  2. Plural possession (“The many trees’ leaves”—not “trees’s leaves”)
  3. Contraction, short for “is” (“It’s cold outside”)
  4. Contraction, short for “us” (“Let’s go inside”)

Aside from the varying rules, “s” is also the way of pluralizing in English. So possessive and plural can sound the same.

And “it’s” vs “its” is a popular point of confusion.

  1. “The horse’s hooves made noise.”
  2. “Its hooves made noise.” No apostrophe here! (And “it’s” is a separate word entirely.)

Proposal:

Let us disambiguate these cases in text, while keeping the pronunciation the same.

  1. Plurality remains “-s” and “-es.”
  2. Contractions (e.g. “let’s go” or “it’s going to rain”) can remain the same.
  3. For possession, we’ll use a new symbol. It will still be pronounced the same way.

OPTION 1: A plain “z” might work, and has a similar sound:

“z”:

  • “The fishz scales.” “The octopusz tentacles.”
    • This becomes awkward when a word ends in a “z.” There are about 60 English words that this would affect.
    • Example: “The waltzz (“waltz’s”) steps were difficult.” Or: “The Jazzz (“Jazz’s”) audience.”

These oddities could be avoided with an apostrophe or hyphen:

’z:

  • “’z”: “The two quizzes’z answers.” “The fizz’z sound.”

-z:

  • “The quiz-z answers.” “The Joneses-z house.” “The cats-z tails.”

possessive-hyphen
Fig 2: Maybe Z or -Z or ‘Z is the way to go.

OPTION 2: We could use a special punctuation mark that is only for possession.

The degree symbol (°) gets very little use in English, and could perhaps be re-purposed

  • “°”: “The two horses°s saddles.” “The various bottles°s labels.” “The cat°s meow.”

possessive-o

Fig 3: The degree symbol is generally unused in English writing, so it could be repurposed with few complaints. This might be the cat°s meow.

OPTION 3: Alternately, we could omit the punctuation-mark-and-letter entirely, and borrow a possessive-indicating character from another language (which we would still pronounce as “s.”).

  • Chinese possessive-mark equivalent:
  • Japanese possessive-mark equivalent:

The Japanese one is simple and resembles a (very large) punctuation mark already:

possessive-no

Fig 4: Perhaps symbols from other languages would be suitable. Example: “The horseshoe nails.” “The man jacket.” “The dozen cats tails.”

Possessive pronouns according to these rules:

We can also make “his / hers / theirs / its” fit this system:

  • her / hers —> herz / her’z / her°s / her
  • its —> itz / it’z / it°s / it  (note: not to be confused with “it’s” as in “it’s going to rain”)
  • theirs —> theirz / their’z / their°s / their

We have at least two options for “his”:

  • his —> hisz / his’z / his°s / his
  • Or if we disassemble “his” into “he’s”:
    • his —> hez / he’z / he°s / he
  • Or maybe even:
    • his —> hiz / hi’z / hi°s / hi

The last one has a new (but very unlikely) confusion: “hi°s” (“tell him that hi°s car is double-parked”) is now visually identical to “hi°s” (as in “we greeted them from afar with a loud ‘hi’, but the hi°s volume wasn’t high enough for them to hear it”).

Conculsion:

  1. Plural remains “s” with no bells and whistles.
  2. Possession is indicated with either a “z” or some combination of punctuation-and-z (e.g. “°z”), or possibly by a completely new punctuation mark borrowed from another language (e.g. “”).
  3. Contractions (like “let’s go” and “it’s cold”) remain “’s”.

Now we’ve freed up the apostrophe for its primary job of indicating contractions!

PROS: Will create thousands of new jobs teaching writing to primary school students. Finally the tyranny of “its” vs “it’s” will be banished from the land.

CONS: If we start using “” or “”, other countries might invade when their own supplies of these valuable characters run low.

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