Common Pitfalls with Apostrophes, Quotes, Foot and Inch Marks, etc.

If you haven’t yet, I’d read last week’s quick discussion on the terminology and proper use of several lookalike punctuation marks. Let’s get going.



Comma,-Apostrophe-4 Comma,-Apostrophe-3

Since there’s no separate key for open or close single quote, the apostrophe key often serves the function of indicating where the appropriate punctuation mark should go, and leaves it to software to either guess what to put in its place, or ignore the mark (leaving the dumb quote unchanged).


Unless explicitly specified, word processors will in many cases render your apostrophe as a single open quote. This commonly happens when apostrophes begin a word or line, or as in the example above, appear right after a hyperlink. An often-overlooked case is the abbreviated year, e.g. ’45 for 1945.

How to specify: On the Mac, type Shift+Option+]. In Windows, hold Alt while typing 0146 on the 9-key number pad. In HTML, the entity is ’.


Software tends to get these right nearly every time. The one thing that throws it off occasionally is an apostrophe confusion (described above). InDesign gives us the option to not process dumb quotes and leave them as is. By default, they’re enabled under the type preferences setting ‘Use Typographer’s Quotes,’ a misnomer if you ask me, since curly quotes should not belong solely to the typographer. For the web, the HTML entities are ‘ and ’ for left and right single quotes, “ and ” for double. Mac users can type these with Option+] and Shift+Option+] (single), and Option+[ and Shift+Option+[ (double) quotes. In Windows, it’s what you probably expect, more codes to type in while holding Alt. Respectively they are 0145 & 0146, 0147 & 0148.

‘Okina & similar characters


Since at present a relative few fonts designed for print support this glottal stop character, I recommend using a left single quote (for print or at display sizes on the web). But if you’re working on the web at text sizes, and have a reliable fallback font that doesn’t distract too much, I’d use the appropriate HTML value: ʻ. One last thing to consider: though the ʻokina may look like a punctuation mark, in the Hawaiian language it’s a letter.



Similar business with primes, the marks used for feet′ and inches″ don’t exist as such in many fonts for print, but do exist in the fonts with extensive character sets for web. Prime and double prime have the following HTML entities: ′ and ″. If they exist in a typeface, they should be mapped to this and subsequent Unicode addresses: U+2032. What to use instead then? I often italicize dumb quotes and kern them in place as a stand-in for primes. No need for that in the sample above, mind you, Aften Screen has you covered.



Just one note on the comma. Type designers go to some trouble to make an italic comma that works with the rest of the italic characters. If you’re emphasizing a single word using italics that’s followed by a comma, italicize the comma (and maybe even the space after the comma) as well. Same goes for any surrounding quotation marks, unless you’re prepared to kern it yourself.

That’s all. Using Type continues here Thursday. Special thanks to Frode Helland’s Aften Screen for the illustrations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s