A is for Apostrophes

I DO use the apostrophe when it would be otherwise confusing, such as with plural letters.

greedy3-330Recently, I was watching this news show on ABC-TV (US) featuring a bunch of talking heads. A feature has a couple Picks of the Week from each participant, a noteworthy story. That week included Democratic strategist James Carville; the overlay showed JAME’S PICK.

I wanted to scream. The one thing you NEVER do with an apostrophe is break up someone’s name ending in S just before that letter.

One doesn’t visit the JONE’S house, one visits the JONES’ house, or the JONES’S house, depending on your school of thought on this. If you’re unclear, you visit the JONES family and avoid the apostrophe altogether.

I’m convinced that it is the use of the apostrophe that creates the bulk of spelling errors in the United States. There are road signs with ONION’S FOR SALE, when the plural doesn’t need an apostrophe at all.

Here’s an interesting bit from WikiHow:

Know how to use apostrophes for acronyms and years. Say you use an acronym for a noun, like CD. To make CD plural, use “CDs,” not CD’s.” The same logic goes for years — instead of writing “Spandex was popular in the 1980’s,” use “1980s.”

I totally agree, but my spellcheck doesn’t like CDs or 1980s; it prefers CD’s and 1980’s! Oy.

Moreover, I DO use the apostrophe when it would be otherwise confusing, such as with plural letters: “I got 4 A’s and two B’s on my report card.” Sans apostrophe, A’s looks like the word As.

A lot of confusion comes from the recognition of a possessive. There are lots of websites that explain this better than I, such as The Oatmeal and Scribendi.

THE most common error, of course, involves it’s and its, and it’s somewhat understandable. Possessive nouns take an apostrophe: THE GOAT’S FUR; possessive pronouns do not: ITS FUR. The word IT’S is a contraction, meaning IT IS. I see this particular error SO often, even in newspapers and magazines, that I despair of it ever being truly understood.

And I know why, per Henry Hitchings, though disputed by HistoriAnn:

[H]ere’s the rub: say any of these names aloud and you’ll be struck by the fact that the apostrophe works on the eye rather than the ear. Simply put, we don’t hear apostrophes, and this is a significant factor accounting for the inconsistency with which they are used.

You grammar buffs, and I count myself in your number: IS it a lost cause?

ABC Wednesday – Round 16

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

33 thoughts on “A is for Apostrophes”

  1. I despair when I read the posts on Facebook – spelling and grammar gone out of the window! Not just youngsters either.
    Here’s to Round 16 Batman!

  2. You are such a grammar nazi! But, I argue with people about the proper use of its and it’s all the time…even in the journalism class I teach. Double Oy!!

  3. I am in total agreement with you Roger, One particularly poor use of the English language is someone saying, “I could of”, instead of “I could have”.
    That drives me mad too!
    Best wishes,
    Di. xx

    I have a problem again with my blog again Blogger is telling me that my URL has changed back to the http:// etc. I’m now baffled because I can’t access my ‘A’ post on ABCW, have I been spammed or Phished? Can you please help me ? xxx

  4. Hello again,
    A miracle has occurred my blog has returned to normal, have you been waving a magic wand again Roger? I see the extra Trubes link has gone I meant to tell you about that too!
    Thanks,
    Di xx

  5. LOVE LOVE LOVE that you posted this! It is one of my most enormous pet peeves that people misuse the apostrophe! I just want to scream…”If the word doesn’t own anything, don’t use an apostrophe!” It actually takes MORE time to add that extra apostrophe when the word is a simple plural, so I don’t get it. I do make many mistakes when I write, and that makes me not want to chide others for these little pet peeves of mine, but it seems epidemic!

  6. I understand how you feel about this, Roger. And if you think the mistakes are bad in America, you should see Australia’s apostrophe problem!

    Do they still teach punctuation and grammar in school, I wonder. Like, it’s not rocket science. Once you learn the rules, it’s easy.

  7. I’m horrible at grammar but I appreciate good grammar. Great post Roger! Now I feel as though I might have missed a comma somewhere…

  8. My pet peeve – the word you’re – it’s a contraction for goodness sake: your are becomes you’re not your!
    Great post Roger. Loved it (but then I’m a retired teacher)!

  9. I’m with you on apostrophe’s—whoops!—apostrophes. It was kind of you not to point out that B’s without the apostrophe might look like BS, which has a very different meaning. In New Zealand, we call plural words like onion’s or melon’s “greengrocers’ apostrophe” (or plural). I may, quite possibly, have erased errant apostrophes on chalkboards outside shops.

  10. I am told that in Britain, the type of mistake like “onion’s for sale” is known as a “grocer’s apostrophe,” because apparently grocers use them so often. (I see Arthur beat me to that, and that it seems to be common throughout the more-strongly-UK-influenced nations)

    The it’s/its issue makes me crazy (I am a biology prof but I still require written papers of my students). There used to be a sports complex not too far from me that advertised “SOFTBALL AT IT’S BEST!” and I always winced when I drove past it. (They have since changed the sign to a completely different statement with no grammatical errors.)

  11. I too despair of how our written language has fallen into a “who cares?” attitude. Even newspapers and the TV media has little concern for our language. One that bothers me more than the misuse of apostrophes is attaching adjectives to “unique” as in the most unique. Yikes, we’ve turned our language over to idiots!

  12. I never understood why the apostrophe is so difficult to use. When I make the silly mistake of it’s and its, it’s because I wrote faster than my brain’s noting and then too lazy to go proof myself.

  13. I remember the day in grade school when we had the possessive using an apostrophe. It made so much sense to me then that I’ve rarely had a problem since. Mistakes in its use just scream at me. I must have had a good teacher (he was a retired army sergeant). However, the differences between some British punctuation and American still confuse me. (Where does the period go, after the parenthesis or before?)
    Thank you for your comment on my blog. I value your opinion.:)

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