On Writing: Let’s Talk Grammar for a While
Those Nasty Little Apostrophes
I would say that apostrophes are probably the most misused punctuation marks used in the English language. I constantly see them abused on bulletin boards, road signs, store ads, mailboxes, and all kinds of other literature in the mail. What is it about that squiggly little mark that frustrates folks to no end?
Well, the biggest problem is that most people never pay any attention in their English classes in school to learn how to use the little buggers correctly. The second reason they are so misused is because it’s just so easy to do so. And I must admit that some of the rules for usage are a little complicated. So let’s look at a few of the common mistakes we see with apostrophes:
1. Right: It’s a shame you can’t remember how to use the apostrophe. (It’s stands for “it is.”)
Wrong: Its a shame you can’t remember how to use the apostrophe.
2. Right: The dog chewed its bone apart in ten minutes.
Wrong: The dog chewed it’s bone apart in ten minutes. (Remember that it’s stands for “it is.”)
3. Right: The Hublers live in Middleburg.
Wrong: The Hubler’s live in Middleburg. (That apostrophe makes the name possessive and refers to one Hubler. And what does the one dear Hubler own? Nothing in this sentence; therefore, the apostrophe shouldn’t be used.)
4. Right: The Hublers’ house is in Middleburg. (If you are referring to more than one Hubler.)
Wrong: The Hubler’s house is in Middleburg. (Only is correct if you are talking about one Hubler, but you wouldn’t say, “The Hubler’s house …”)
5. Right: The kitten’s toy is a stuffed mouse. (Referring to one kitten)
Wrong: The kittens’ toy is a stuffed mouse. (This refers to more than one kitten. Does it make sense to say that more than one kitten has the same toy? I guess if you’re talking about a litter of kittens, but let’s not stretch the truth to extremes here.)
6. Right: Hoagies Sold Here! (Plural: hoagies)
Wrong: Hoagies’ Sold Here! (The hoagies’ what are sold there? The apostrophe used here means that the hoagies own something. What do they own?)
This example number six is probably the most misused form of the apostrophe. I see so many signs and announcements with apostrophes used when the word should be only the plural.
7. Right: Mary said you’re going to church with me. (You’re stands for “you are.”)
Wrong: Mary said your going with me.
8. Right: Robert Burns’s poems are famous. (In some quarters, Burns’ is acceptable too)
Wrong: Robert Burnses poems are famous.
9. Right: The children’s recess period ended at ten. (Always write the plural first, then add the apostrophe at the end.)
Wrong: The childrens’ recess period ended at ten.
10. Right: The writers’ conference was held in July. (Also acceptable is “writers conference” with no apostrophe)
Wrong: The writer’s conference was held in July. (There was only one writer in attendance?)
And just for clarity’s sake, let me share a few more tricky words that sometimes do and sometimes don’t get apostrophes:
CDs DVDs dos and don’ts no ifs, ands, or buts
ABCs VIPs the 1970s
the Joneses (Plural, not possessive)
two Toms, three Dicks, four Harrys
moose’s (the same for singular + plural)
There are lots of other examples of how the poor apostrophe is misused, but these that I’ve mentioned are the blatant ones.
If you’re having problems with apostrophes, feel free to print this info and use it when you’re in a pickle, wondering what you should do. It’s a good thing to master if you’re into writing.
Next time, we’ll look at the proper use of the semicolon.