Monday, May 12, 2008

Using Apostrophes Correctly: A Post To Prove It’s Easy

It’s dangerous to appear as if you’re lecturing your readers.

So I’m usually not one to bitch and moan just to get things off my chest. But last week I went ballistic. Items were thrown and curses were spewed because of one thing that angers me every time I see it: Misused apostrophes.

The rules are simple—much easier to remember than most other grammar madness. Yet many of us throw apostrophes around so poorly that we show utter disrespect to our readers and allow ourselves to be seen as complete idiots.

The basics aren’t hard:

(1) Apostrophes are used for contractions and possessives, like “You’re reading David Amulet’s rant about apostrophes.” Note: Contractions can occur in numbers; my “Underappreciated ’80s” series of posts use the apostrophe because I’ve removed the “19” from the decade.

There is one key exception to this apostrophe/possessive rule ...

(2) It’s is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.” If you’re indicating possession and not saying “it is” or “it has,” use its—without the apostrophe. Both are used correctly here: “It’s David Amulet’s post about apostrophes that makes its points clearly.”

(3) Apostrophes are not used for plurals, except in odd cases where their absence creates combinations of letters that could be confused with words.

This can be seen in a sentence like “David Amulet received neither A’s nor B’s in English classes despite his apostrophe obsession.”

(4) Don’t rely on spell/grammar check; it’s often dead wrong on the use of it’s versus its. For example, Microsoft Word spurred me to change the “It’s” in the title to “its,” confirming that Microsoft is an evil hive of scum and villainy bent on destroying Western civilization.

Style maven Lynne Truss writes in her bestselling Eats, Shoots and Leaves that if you continue confusing it’s and its, “you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot, and buried in an unmarked grave.”

Thankfully, I’m not as manic as Ms. Truss about this.

But for your own sake, stop giving the impression you’re an ignorant ass-clown. Stop confusing it’s and its. Stop using apostrophes for plurals.

Consciously or subconsciously, readers tend to discount what you’re writing if its presentation is bad … so do yourself a big favor and take an extra three seconds when you’re posting to get the apostrophes right.

And don’t tell me it’s none of my business. It’s because I care.


At May 12, 2008 5:57 PM, Blogger Barbara(aka Layla) replied to my musings ...

If I never comment here again it is out of fear of misusing an apostrophe.

At May 12, 2008 9:03 PM, Blogger Jessica replied to my musings ...

Good post!! Oh, and I also need to mention that I love Eats, Shoots and Leaves! Yes, I'm a dork! :)

At May 12, 2008 9:08 PM, Blogger Barbara(aka Layla) replied to my musings ...

Actually, u kant git red of me that eezy! i thynk ill coment evan more and make realy anoying typergrafical errs to bug u!!!

At May 13, 2008 12:52 AM, Blogger jenn replied to my musings ...

If you weren't married, I'd propose just for this post alone.

At May 13, 2008 2:11 AM, Blogger Bruce replied to my musings ...

I'm not a grammar Nazi(more like a grammar version of the "Soup Guy"), but the ones that most often grate my cheese are the your/you're and their/there/they're conundrums. In times like these, I harken back to the words of that great American, Ron White, who so eloquently said, "You can't fix stupid."

At May 13, 2008 6:24 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Barbara: I hope that isn't the effect of this post; I just wanted to show how easy it is to get this right!

Jessica: Embrace you inner dork. Especially if it means you keep yourself from looking like a fool.

Jenn: Wow! I may have to post on grammar more often with feedback like that.

Bruce: That's the funny thing--this is so easily recognized and fixed! (I'm with you on their/there and your/you're. I see those switched all the time in blogging and it's hard NOT to assume the writer is a moron.)

At May 13, 2008 3:54 PM, Blogger Zen Wizard replied to my musings ...

When a word ends in an "X" and you want to make it possessive, do you go "x'" or "x's"?

For instance, "The dominatrix' whip sent a singeing pain through my buttocks--crossing that line where pleasure meets pain."

Or, "According to the language in the executrix's will, you would not think that I visited the old bat twice a week for the last five years and cleaned the litter box for her 12 cats."

Oh, well, my work here is done--I'm heading to Hooter's. I mean, Hooters.

At May 14, 2008 7:52 PM, Blogger BeckEye replied to my musings ...

My pet peeve is when people write 80's, 70's, etc. instead of '80s and '70s.

At May 15, 2008 1:33 AM, Blogger Jim replied to my musings ...

David, never go to this page:

At May 15, 2008 1:48 AM, Blogger Kayla replied to my musings ...

I surely don't want to be a hacked up ass-clown buried in an unmarked grave. Now I'll have to recheck all of my posts and correct them...
Gee thanks

At May 15, 2008 6:41 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

ZW: Style guides differ on what to do with ending "s" sounds. I tend to use an apostrophe-s for possessives on words ending in an "s" sound (such as "the dominatrix's whip lashed Russ's ass"). But some won't add the "s" after the apostrophe if there are two of them before the apostrophe--or if the word has two sibilants close the end of the words, like "Moses."

Beckeye: And yet we see that all the time. I can see why--people think a band from the '80s is possessive, so they make it "an 80's band" to avoid having two apostrophes in one word--but I still don't like it.

Jim: I'll check it out today!

Kayla: No worries--this is more of a vent than a threat. I'll swing by your site, but not to check for apostrophes.

At May 15, 2008 1:32 PM, Blogger Mike replied to my musings ...

I had a great comment, but I fear it's been deleted...couldn't've been, right? Surely you would've told me you were going to, right? Hahahahahaha!!!!

At May 15, 2008 3:05 PM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Mike: Nope, I haven't deleted anything. Can you recall your comment and try again to post?

At May 15, 2008 6:10 PM, Blogger Zen Wizard replied to my musings ...

I think we can all agree that when a bar is named after an Irishman, and it is purportedly "his" bar--even if he is a fictitous mascot--an apostrophe is called for.


"O'Charley's"; "Hoolihan's," "Bennigan's"; etc.

At May 16, 2008 9:12 AM, Anonymous LisaBinDaCity replied to my musings ...

I just love it when you rant!

And just for full disclosure, I write in the passive voice ;-)

At May 16, 2008 11:11 AM, Blogger The Factician replied to my musings ...

Preach it!

(I tend to get a little bent out of shape when I see apostrophe abuse).

At May 16, 2008 10:10 PM, Blogger Mike replied to my musings ...

It was just a comment to the effect of wondering if I could draw the ire of David Amulet if I used made up conjunctions and run on sentences...

At May 17, 2008 11:45 AM, Blogger Lee Ann replied to my musings ...

I enjoyed the mini seminar!
Have a great weekend!
Lee Ann

At May 17, 2008 12:47 PM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

ZW: It gets more confusing with placed like "Starbucks," which had no apostrophe but could if the company was reflecting ownership by a Battlestar Galactica character.

Lisa: Who knew my infrequent rants had fans??

Factician: Thanks for stopping by--and for seconding my motion.

Mike: Yes, those things are annoying, but for some reason it's the apostrophes that make me angry.

Lee Ann: A seminar, eh? I feel so professorial now.


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