apostrophe’s

Take a long look at the title of this blog posting, and imprint this on your brain: THE TITLE IS GRAMMATICLY INCORRECT. Got it? I suggest reading this posting over and over again until the title grates on your nerves as badly as it does mine.

This is a lesson on apostrophes. If you’re tempted not to read it, it may be that you’re the very person who needs to! I’ve heard many people complain that they’re bad grammarians because the English language has so many exceptions; there are no hard and fast rules. If you’re that type of person, rest easy: you don’t have to learn (m)any exceptions when using the apostrophe.

Rule number 1: Never, never, never use an apostrophe to pluralize a word. People most often misuse the apostrophe by sticking it right in front of the “s” that makes one thing more than one thing. WRONG! You cannot say “I have two cat’s.” Never. That is always, always wrong.

Now, some people tend to get confused when they start using last names. Ask yourself: What is the thing I’m tempted to apostrophize (yes, I made that word up) possessing? Then ask yourself if the word you’re apostrophizing could be divided into two words (that is, is it a contraction?). If the word (or name) you’re using is not possessing anything and cannot be divided, DON’T use the apostrophe. Trust me on this one. The following use of punctuation is correct:

The Smiths are coming.

Last names can spark confusion because of the commonly used phrase: “We’re going to the Browns’.” An apostrophe is appropriate here because there is an implied word: house. That is, “We’re going to the Browns’ [house].”

Now, some people (even those who write grammar books) feel that when one uses abbreviations or numbers, it’s okay to add apostrophes to pluralize those words. While a grammar teacher may not count off for calling compact discs CD’s rather than CDs, I’d like to challenge you not to do it anyway. It’s more correct to stick with this rule of thumb: never, never, never use an apostrophe to pluralize a word! When you apply the rule to EVERYTHING, including TAs, the 1950s, and SUVs, apostrophes make a LOT more sense!

Rule number 2: You may only use an apostrophe in possessive words or contractions. Now that I’ve thoroughly bashed your confidence in using apostrophes at all, there are places you may (and must!) use apostrophes (unless, of course, you’ve decided to always write sentences like, “That ball belongs to Jennie” rather than “That is Jennie’s ball”). First, you may use an apostrophe when implying possession of some sort. For instance:

Chuck’s daughter owns a ukulele.

The daughter belongs to Chuck. Coincidentally, the ukulele belongs to the daughter, so we could also say:

The ukulele is Chuck’s daughter’s.

That sentence may be awkward to say, but it’s correct. The possessed object (the ukulele, in this instance) doesn’t have to be preceded by its possessor. (If you noticed any exceptions to my rules in this paragraph, by chance, we’ll address those problems at the end of the lesson.)

There are cases when you must add an apostrophe to an already pluralized word. For example:

The girls’ dressing room rang with laughter.

The rule here is easy: if the pluralized word already ends in “s,” there is no need to add another “s” after the apostrophe. If the pluralized word does not end in “s” (children, for example), go ahead and add the apostrophe and the “s” (the children’s game).

Going back to singular words, there are cases when a singular word ending in “s” possesses an object. In these situations, it is considered grammatically correct to either add the extra “s” or leave it off. It’s your choice. Take these sentences for instance:

Jesus’s disciples followed Him.
or
Jesus’ disciples followed Him.

Both examples are correct. I personally prefer the former version because it looks the same as all the other singular possessive words in my writing: they all end in ‘s. But I digress.

There is one — and only one — more reason to use an apostrophe, and that is in contractions. You remember contractions, right? Your elementary school teachers probably drilled them into your little brain before you were steady on a bicycle. Contractions are simple. They are apostrophized words that have one or more letters missing because they have joined two words together. And here’s the rule of thumb to remember: The apostrophe stands for the missing letter(s). Examples are:

can’t
don’t
haven’t
we’re
you’re
y’all

The first four words on that list make a lot of sense. You’re and y’all can be a little tricky, but they can be easily mastered if you carefully follow the rules I’ve laid out.

When using your or you’re, always ask yourself (I still do every time!) if you could substitute the words you are for the word you’ve chosen. If you can’t, then your is your word. Just remember: your is possessive, you’re is a contraction. Use the same rules with their and they’re.

And now we’ve gotten to one of my biggest pet peeves: the misspelling of the word y’all. I have even seen public signs misspell this word to read ya’ll. That only makes sense if the original words before dropping a letter and combining them were ya and all. And since that is laborious to say in any case, we can only conclude that the original words before the contraction’s creation were you and all. The dropped letters are ou, so the apostrophe clearly must follow the y. Got it?

Here is the coolest part about this whole topic. Since an apostrophe can stand for missing letters, you can easily make up words that are grammatically correct. There is nothing wrong with making up apostrophized words; we do it in spoken English all the time. The most important thing is that your reader understands what they mean. The reason these aren’t in the dictionary is because there are just too many possibilities to list! Perfectly legitimate words include:

his’re
y’all’re
wouldn’t’ve

One word I use often is it’s, as in “It’s gone too far.” While it’s commonly stands for it is, it can also stand for it has. Readers easily figure that out from the context.

Now , we’ll move into the two exceptions (that come to mind right now):

First, contractions can be tricky because of certain words like ain’t. English teachers hate this word, and I presume that’s because it doesn’t follow any of the hard and fast rules I’ve listed here. (Ai not cannot replace ain’t.) Quite frankly, they can’t explain the word to students, so they just say it shouldn’t be used (by calling it slang). I would only take their side if those same teachers also outlawed the word won’t. Now, explain that word to me! To be perfectly correct, willn’t seems to make a whole lot more sense! Here’s what I think: If you outlaw the word ain’t, you must also outlaw the word won’t. Neither or both. English teachers, take your pick.

And number two, pronouns can occasionally give you a bit of a problem. In a previous paragraph, I hinted that I had just disobeyed my rules by using one of those “exception” words. The words “it’s” and “its” should be used thus: “It’s broken” and “Here are its pieces.” Like I said, it’s a pronoun thing. Sometime in the history of the English language, someone decided pronouns didn’t need apostrophes, so he invented words like theirs and hers and yours. Its is the trickiest because it always precedes the thing it possesses, unlike other pronouns. Theirs, hers, and yours only come at the end of a sentence or phrase, and they have special, different words (their, her, and your) for the times when they need to come right before the thing they’re possessing. There’s a name for those cases, but you don’t need to know it. It’s quite likely that through speaking the English language, you have no trouble remembering when to use theirs and when to use their. It comes naturally. It’s only in using the word its (and whose/who’s) that you tend to forget, unlike the man who invented the word, that there’s no apostrophe.

I know it’s probably been a long time since you’ve been in English class, and a longer time since you’ve done a grammar worksheet, so here’s an exercise to hone your recently learned skills. Fix all the problems in the following passage and leave your corrected version in my comments box if you’d like, unless you’d like to avoid any criticism.

* * *

Eddie Blogreader glared at me. “You’re posting is ridiculous,” he said. “Who really cares about apostrophes?”
“I do,” I told him.
“But your writing this blog posting to a wide audience. Million’s could read this. Don’t you think you’re wasting people’s time?”
“No,” I retorted. “Think about the average blogs’ contents. Are discussions about PEZ dispensers’ adventures any more worth ones time than lessons in grammar?”
“Well… no.” Eddie scratched his head. “But come on, we’re not all Hubers’. Or Beyer’s. Ya’ll’re crazy. Its high time has come.”
“Who’s high time? What’s high time?”
“Its time for my Super-Powered Blog. It’ll leave all of you womens’ blogs in the dust.” Eddie sneered.
“Oh, really?” I said laughingly. “Well, maybe you’ll come around to my way of thinking after you’ve been rejected from job interviews because you’re resume was filled with grammatical error’s.”
“Fat chant’s.”
“Chant’s? Don’t you mean chance?”
“Whatever,” Eddie huffed. “Those things’re supposed to come up on the spell check.”

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    • Luke
    • May 18th, 2005

    Eddie Blogreader glared at me. “Your posting is ridiculous,” he said. “Who really cares about apostrophes?”
    “I do,” I told him.
    “But you’re writing this blog posting to a wide audience. Millions could read this. Don’t you think you’re wasting peoples time?”
    “No,” I retorted. “Think about the average blog’s contents. Are discussions about PEZ dispensers’ adventures any more worth one’s time than lessons in grammar?”
    “Well… no.” Eddie scratched his head. “But come on, we’re not all Hubers. Or Beyers. Y’all’re crazy. {Its high time has come.”
    “Whos high time? Whats high time?”}This part’s hard
    “It’s time for my Super-Powered Blog. It’ll leave all of you womens’ blogs in the dust.” Eddie sneered.
    “Oh, really?” I said laughingly. “Well, maybe you’ll come around to my way of thinking after you’ve been rejected from job interviews because your resume was filled with grammatical errors.”
    “Fat chants.”
    “Chants? Don’t you mean chance?”
    “Whatever,” Eddie huffed. “Those things’re supposed to come up on the spell check.”

    • Brooke
    • May 18th, 2005

    Eddie Blogreader glared at me. “Your posting is ridiculous,” he said. “Who really cares about apostrophes?”
    “I do,” I told him.
    “But you’re writing this blog posting to a wide audience. Millions could read this. Don’t you think you’re wasting people’s time?”
    “No,” I retorted. “Think about the average blog’s contents. Are discussions about PEZ dispensers’ adventures any more worth ones time than lessons in grammar?”
    “Well… no.” Eddie scratched his head. “But come on, we’re not all Hubers. Or Beyers. Ya’ll’re crazy. It’s high time has come.”
    “Whose high time? What’s high time?”
    “It’s time for my Super-Powered Blog. It’ll leave all of you women’s blogs in the dust.” Eddie sneered.
    “Oh, really?” I said laughingly. “Well, maybe you’ll come around to my way of thinking after you’ve been rejected from job interviews because your resume was filled with grammatical errors.”
    “Fat chants.”
    “Chants? Don’t you mean chance?”
    “Whatever,” Eddie huffed. “Those things’re supposed to come up on the spell check.

    Carrie – I feel honored to have been indirectly included in your passage.

    • Luke
    • May 18th, 2005

    DOH! I forgot the “e” on whose.

    • c.l.beyer
    • May 19th, 2005

    How fun to have people actually completing my assignment! You miss school already, do you?

    • dona
    • May 19th, 2005

    Eddie Blogreader glared at me. “Your posting is ridiculous,” he said. “Who really cares about apostrophes?”
    “I do,” I told him.
    “But you’re writing this blog posting to a wide audience. Millions could read this. Don’t you think you’re wasting people’s time?”
    “No,” I retorted. “Think about the average blog’s contents. Are discussions about PEZ dispensers’ adventures any more worth one’s time than lessons in grammar?”
    “Well… no.” Eddie scratched his head. “But come on, we’re not all Hubers. Or Beyers. Y’all’re crazy. Its high time has come.”
    “Whose high time? Whats high time?”
    “It’s time for my Super-Powered Blog. It’ll leave all of you women’s blogs in the dust.” Eddie sneered.
    “Oh, really?” I said laughingly. “Well, maybe you’ll come around to my way of thinking after you’ve been rejected from job interviews because you’re resume was filled with grammatical errors.”
    “Fat chants.”
    “Chants? Don’t you mean chance?”
    “Whatever,” Eddie huffed. “Those things’re supposed to come up on the spell check.”

    Yes, I do miss school.
    And thanks for the very important lesson. I’ve been mispelling y’all for many years. It’s nice to know how to really spell that word!

    • Anonymous
    • May 20th, 2005

    Hi, Care. You go! Get on your soapbox and lambast away! Save the much-abused apostrophe!

    I _really_ don’t want to sound like a nitpicky “English teacher” type, even though I am an English teacher. (We don’t all wear our hair slicked back into a tight bun at the nape of our necks and rap students’ knuckles when they get something wrong.) But I have to say that they’re called “contractions,” not “conjunctions.” Conjunctions are connecting words, such as and, but, or, although, because, etc. Conjunctions connect words and phrases to other words and phrases. (The root “junct” means “join,” if that helps.) Contractions, on the other hand, are more than one word contracted to be shorter, as though it’s scrunched together. (The root “tract” means “draw,” as in the parts of these words are drawn together by an apostrophe.)

    I think it’s awesome that some people are actually doing your grammar exercise! 🙂 🙂

    You should read _Eats, Shoots, and Leaves_, by Lynne Truss. It would undoubtedly ring true with you. 🙂

    Love you! R.

    • c.l.beyer
    • May 20th, 2005

    Oh, NO! Contractions, not conjunctions! Well, anyway, there goes all my expertise. 😐

    (But now, I have to say, it’s going to bother me, so I’ll have to change it in my original posting)

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