And no, this is not the symbol that is placed on top before the “s” indicating possession. This type of apostrophe is a figure of speech and it is an exclamatory figure of speech. With its roots in Greek drama and the Greek language (meaning ‘turning away’), it refers to the moment when a speaker breaks off from addressing the audience (e.g. in a play) and directs speech to a third party such as an opposing litigant or some other individual, sometimes absent from the scene. Often the addressee is a personified abstract quality or inanimate object. In dramatic works and poetry written in or translated into English, such a figure of speech is often introduced by the vocative exclamation, “O”. This is done to produce a dramatic effect and to show the importance of the object or idea. You may also see metaphor examples.
1. Oh, rose, how sweet you smell and how bright you look!
2. Car, please get me to work today.
3. Oh, trees, how majestic you are as you throw down your golden leaves.
4. Dear love, please don’t shoot me with your Cupid’s bow.
Do not confuse apostrophe example with personification as those two figures of speech vary.
Wordnik defines ‘personification’ as,
“A figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form.” You may also see formal writing examples.
Personification is often found in literature and poetry. Some examples include:
Example 1: “Two Sunflowers Move into the Yellow Room” by Nancy Willard
“Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,”
said the sunflowers, shining with dew.
“Our traveling habits have tired us.
Can you give us a room with a view?”
They arranged themselves at the window
and counted the steps of the sun,
and they both took root in the carpet
where the topaz tortoises run.
In this poem, the sunflowers are talking to the poet William Blake. They are tired of being outside and tell him that they want to be moved. We know that sunflowers cannot be tired or talk so Willard uses personification to give them these attributes. You may also see writing examples in PDF.
Example 2: “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
This poem brings the beauty and tranquility of nature to life. The daffodils are personified as a crowd of people dancing, while Wordsworth floats like a cloud enjoying the show. You may also see free writing examples.
Example 1: Macbeth (By William Shakespeare)
William Shakespeare makes use of an apostrophe in his play Macbeth:
“Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand?
Come, let me clutch thee!
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.”
In his mental conflict before murdering King Duncan, Macbeth has a strange vision of a dagger and talks to it as if it were a person. You may also see the declarative sentence.
Example 2: The Star (By Jane Taylor)
Jane Taylor uses an apostrophe in the well-known poem, The Star:
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.”
This poem became one of the most popular nurseries rhymes told to little children – often in the form of song. In this nursery rhyme, a child speaks to a star (an inanimate object). Hence, this is a classic example of apostrophe. You may also see imperative sentence examples.
Example 3: Frankenstein (By Mary Shelly)
Look at how Mary Shelly uses an apostrophe in her novel Frankenstein:
“Oh! Stars and clouds and winds, ye are all about to mock me; if ye really pity me, crush sensation and memory; let me become as naught; but if not, depart, depart, and leave me in darkness.” You may also see symbolism in poetry
Talking to stars, clouds, and the wind is an apostrophe.
Example 4: Death Be Not Proud (By John Donne)
“Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”
Here, Donne speaks to death, an abstract idea, as if it were a person capable of comprehending his feelings. You may also see analogy examples.
Example 5: The Sun Rising (By John Donne)
John Donne once more uses an apostrophe in his poem The Sun Rising:
“Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch …”
The poet addresses the sun in an informal and colloquial way as if it were a real human being. He asks the Sun in a rude way why the Sun appeared and spoiled the good time he was having with his beloved. You may also see simple sentence examples.
Example 6: A Portrait of the artist as a Young Man (By James Joyce)
James Joyce uses an apostrophe in his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
“Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
Being able to talk to something abstract – like life itself – is possible only in literature.
Example 7: To a Stranger Born in Some Distant Country Hundreds of Years from Now (By Billy Collins)
In this excerpt, the poet uses conventional apostrophe starting with “O”:
“O stranger of the future!
O inconceivable being!
Whatever the shape of your house,
However you scoot from place to place,
No matter how strange and colorless the clothes you may wear,
I bet nobody likes a wet dog either.
I bet everyone in your pub,
Even the children, pushes her away.”
The speaker is talking to an imaginary character, the “stranger.” You may also see preposition sentences examples.
Example 8: Sire (By W. S. Merwin)
Another apostrophe example comes from the poem Sire, written by W. S. Merwin:
“Forerunner, I would like to say, silent pilot,
Little dry death, future,
Your indirections are as strange to me
As my own. I know so little that anything
You might tell me would be a revelation