Apostrophe as a Literary Device: Meaning & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is an Apostrophe?
  • 1:18 Examples of Apostrophes
  • 2:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson provides readers with a definition of the literary device apostrophe, as well as several examples in different kinds of texts to ensure comprehension and the reader's ability to identify the device.

What Is an Apostrophe?

Readers may easily confuse this device with the punctuation mark of the same name. Often when we use the term 'apostrophe,' we are referring to the punctuation mark that denotes possession, as in, The boy's bike is red. The apostrophe we will be discussing today, however, is very different. This type of apostrophe is a literary device where the speaker addresses a person who is dead or not present, or an inanimate object that the speaker addresses as if it were alive. This device is commonly used in plays when a character has a soliloquy, or a speech for one person that is not addressed to another character. The device is also used in works of fiction, poetry, and music.

Writers often use this device when a character is alone and they want to show them thinking out loud. Using an apostrophe with a solo character makes the scene more dramatic and interesting if they are having an imagined conversation with someone who is not present or with an inanimate object. One of the most famous scenes of Hamlet is an apostrophe when Hamlet addresses the skull of Yorick, a person he once knew. This scene probably would not have the same impact if Hamlet had said the same lines without the apostrophe of addressing the skull.

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