Guide to Literary Terms

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Apostrophe

Apostrophe occurs when a narrator or speaker directly addresses an absent (or no longer living) person, an object, an abstract idea, or something or someone imagined as if the addressee were a present, living person able to hear and understand them. Examples of apostrophe sometimes, though not always, begin with “O” or “Oh.”

Correct examples:

  • “O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells . . .”

    • In Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain! My Captain!” the speaker directly addresses his dead captain.

  • “Oh! Stars and clouds and winds, ye are all about to mock me . . .”

    • In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor directly addresses the stars, clouds, and winds.

  • “Death be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so . . .”

    • In John Donne’s sonnet “Death Be Not Proud,” the speaker directly addresses Death.

  • “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 Act II, Scene I of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth directly addresses an imagined dagger.