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Thursday, March 27, 2008  

Apostles and Apostrophes

It sounds a little like some new fantasy role-playing game, but the title of this post actually refers to an interesting search someone recently presented me with. He wanted to search an untagged English text for the plural possessive apostles', and he couldn't figure out how to do it.

By default, Accordance ignores case and apostrophes for purposes of searching. Thus, a search for sons' will find Sons, sons, Son's, son's, Sons', and sons'. If I want to find a specific form, like son's, I simply need to use the equals sign (=), like this: =son's.

But if I want to find a possessive plural, like sons' or apostles', placing the equals sign before those words will not work. If I try to search for =sons', the word list comes up to indicate that this word does not exist.

But it does exist! In Genesis 6:18, most translations have the phrase "your sons' wives." Yet if I try to do an exact search for sons' I get an error. What's going on here?

Whenever we create an Accordance module, we build an index of every word in the text. The list of words in this index is what comes up in the Select Words dialog box whenever you try to enter a word which is not in the text. When the program used to build this index runs across a word followed by an apostrophe, like sons' or apostles', it is ambiguous whether this is an apostrophe which is actually part of the word, or a single quotation mark which is not part of the word. We therefore index these words simply as sons and apostles. If you scan through the word list, you'll notice it has no plural possessives ending in apostrophes.

So how do we find a plural possessive? By searching for a phrase consisting of the plural word followed by an apostrophe. Like this:

The period symbol will find every occurrence of whatever character immediately follows it, and is especially useful for finding punctuation, Greek accents, Hebrew cantillation marks and vowel points, etc. So by entering the word "apostles," a space, and a period followed by an apostrophe, Accordance will find every plural possessive of apostle. Note that because the apostrophe can also be a single quotation mark, this search will also find any occurrence of "apostles" at the end of a quotation enclosed within single quotes.

This has been a pretty drawn out explanation of a relatively simple search, but I wanted you to understand the why as well as the how behind this search for apostles and apostrophes.

Umm, looking through the HCSB, which you had in the example, all the cases of single quotes ‘... ’ it uses a different character/symbol for begin and end quote.

This suggests to me it would be trivial to automatically match quotes, and mark up the text to differentiate between the two cases, and then the indexer could record the possessive plural consistently with the singular, and solve this problem.

BTW, is there a way as it stands to find all the plural possessive words (even accepting your previous caveats)? It won't accept * .'

Even if I try a* .' to try and find words starting with a and ending with quote it finds things like "and don't", which I wouldn't have expected. a* finds only _words_ starting with a, but a* .' fills in an arbitrary number of _characters_.

I have been searching for years to find a way to discover every question in the Bible. This search method is it! In the New King James Version, I typed a period then a question mark and now I have a list of the 3244 times a question is in the Bible! Thanks, Accordance.

Don Ruhl


I think this is due to the way Accordance handles character searches. In David's example, it worked out well because the plural, non-possessive "apostles" was never followed by another word with an apostrophe.

The search for a character in this instance looks for all words that either have an apostrophe after them or after the next word. That is why you get things like and Noah's in Gen 7:13 with your search for a* .' as well as also' in Gen 24:14 (NAS95S). If the NT had a place where it said "apostles didn't" or something like that, David's search string would have returned that as well.

Perhaps being about to use the @ symbol to attach character searches to words would alleviate this difficulty.

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