Apostrophes


Something I’ve been noticing more and more lately is the gross misuse of apostrophes in people’s writing. I’m going to break this one down into the three most common errors:

 

1) Using an apostrophe with the third person singular form of a verb (WHY?!) and with plural nouns.

With main verbs, the ONLY time there is EVER an apostrophe involved is with “let’s”, which, as everyone knows, is a contraction for “let us.”

So when people inexplicably use an apostrophe with the third person singular form of a verb (e.g. “look’s”, “swim’s”, “rationalize’s”), I always tend to read it as a contraction for VERB + US, just as “let’s” is. This makes this punctuation problem appear all the more strange to me.

For example, take a look at this incorrect sentence:

My friend jump’s for joy.

Here’s what is intended:

Here’s what I read:

Our friend jump us for joy.

And this is what I imagine (despite the subject/verb agreement error):

 

Similarly, apostrophes on nouns are NEVER used just to indicate plurality. In other words, if you are adding an S to a noun solely to show there is more than one, then for crying out loud do NOT use an apostrophe.

The crazy neighbour owns 27 cat’s. <— INCORRECT

The crazy neighbour owns 27 cats <— CORRECT 

 

 

2) Creating a possessive noun that is incorrectly singular or incorrectly plural

If the noun is singular, add an apostrophe and THEN an S. If it is plural, add the S (or ES) and THEN the apostrophe. Simple.

The cat’s owner — The owner of the cat. There is one cat, and it has an owner.

The cats’ owner — The owner of the cats. There is more than one cat, and they have an owner.

(NOTE: with irregular plural nouns (like children, people, or men, for example), for all intents and purposes the apostrophe ALWAYS comes before the S. So, you should never write childrens’, peoples’, or mens’)

Think all of this isn’t such a big deal? Think again, friend:

 

With more than one subject, things can be a bit trickier. With two nouns in the subject of the sentence, an ‘S after both nouns indicates that both nouns possess his or her own. This may sound complex and unnecessarily verbose, so here’s an example:

Bob’s and Jane’s phones are on the table

Both Bob and Jane own their own phone, and both phones are on the table:

Alternatively:

Bob and Jane’s phone is on the table

Bob and Jane both own the phone on the table. They share the same phone. They are likely the type of weird couple that speaks in unison, owns monogrammed bathrobes, and has a joint Facebook account. Stay away from them.

 

 

3) It’s / Its

This might seem easy, but it’s often a problem for people.

IT’S is ALWAYS a contraction for it is or it has.

ITS is ALWAYS a possessive adjective.

Basically, if you are using “its”, try substituting “her” or “his” for “its”. If the sentence still makes sense grammatically, then you’re good to go.

Nice car. I like its colour - Nice car, I like her colour. Sure, it’s lame to refer to your car as if it were a person, but the sentence is still grammatically correct.

If you are using “it’s”, try substituting “it is” instead. Still make sense?

Nice car. I like it’s colour Nice car. I like it is colour. Sound stupid? That’s because it is.

(No, you can not contract “it is” if it falls at the end of a sentence)

Generally speaking, people tend to incorrectly use apostrophes rather than incorrectly omit them. If you’re in doubt, I’d leave it out.

*******************************************************

One problem that even the most grammatically conscious person can encounter occurs when attempting to indicate possession for a proper noun that is ALREADY POSSESSIVE. It’s an issue that even The Economist’s style guide calls “insoluble”. Attempting to do this may cause your brain to short circuit, so it’s best to just avoid it where you can.

Here’s a little example of the problems this could create it you were part of…:

“THE MOST GRAMMATICALLY ANAL-RETENTIVE FAMILY IN THE WORLD”

 

 

        

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About Boggleton Drive

I teach things to people and sometimes draw comics.
This entry was posted in Grammar Lessons! and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Apostrophes

  1. I love the grammar humor and really enjoy your comics. Thanks for the laughs!

  2. Found your blog on freshly pressed. Love it. Will also send the link to my kids as they have the same weird sense of humour as me and also hate incorrect grammar and the misuse of apostrophes as much as I do.

  3. Hi Matt, I am one of the new fans that your FP status has bestowed upon you. Absolutely love your blog, the writing, the apt examples and of course the hilarious comics.
    Funny enough, as a German I find that English grammar comes to me more easily than, say, to my husband who is a native speaker. I always cringe when I see apostrophes used in the wrong way while he hardly ever notices. Maybe it’s because I learnt writing English first while you guys learn to speak before you learn to write.
    Anyway, keep up the good work, I need a good laugh every now and then.

    • Thanks Sandra!
      I think German and English have a lot of grammatical and syntactical similarities, but I can’t speak German at all so I’m only going by what I’ve heard :)
      Common problem – Us native English speakers are often NEVER taught grammar, and so we’re guilty of some of the most egregious written mistakes (one of the worst: “could of” instead of “could have”) Bleh!
      Glad you enjoy the comics!

      • Oooh, yeah, one of my all-time favourites too (not!). Also, their and there (you have processed that one the other day too). It seems so simple for me, I can’t understand how people get it wrong all the time!
        By the way, mistakes like these (including apostrophes) are very common in German as well, and I suspect the internet/text culture has a lot to do with it.
        Well, at least I now know (here’s another one ;-) ) where (not were) to go to when I want to read proper English.

      • Dan Harling says:

        We native English speakers…? ;-)

      • Ack! The perils of having a blog dedicated to grammar – writing colloquially WILL get noticed. Nice spot! ;)

    • Don’t forget “they’re”. >:O
      This blog is so funny! Although I do find myself wincing with the knowledge that I make mistakes mentioned here sometimes.

  4. randomsensibility says:

    Dear God, you are just for putting this person on Earth to give us grammar-goats a laugh… LOL LOVE BOGGELTON DRIVE!!!!!

  5. Krisantemum says:

    Damn, I like your posts… Anyway, I own a blog about learning English, which is http://linggris.wordpress.com . Can I translate some of your posts into Indonesian and post them in my blog? Oh yeah, also i would like to put your blog to my blogroll if that’s okay.

  6. Frescoes says:

    I have a fetish for spelling and grammar……great job!

  7. Pingback: Apostrophic Errors | thewordmonger's blog

  8. Jared says:

    So… McDonald’s’? McDonald’ses?

    • The correct grammar is “I need to use that greasy burger joint’s bathroom”

      (You actually can’t turn a proper noun that is already possessive into a possessive. One of the idiosyncrasies of our language)

  9. Pingback: Update: Apostrophes « Boggleton Drive

  10. Hilarious. Nobody should leave school without passing a test on this stuff. We didn’t have much formal grammar/punctuation training in school (I picked up what I know through learning a foreign language) however I still managed to end up working as an Editor. These kind of errors drive me insane too, but luckily the enjoyment I find in explaining their errors to other people kind of heals the wound ;-) I blogged about something similar here:
    http://cakesandshakes.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/irregardless-is-not-a-word/

  11. jenms says:

    Hilarious! I LOLd at the joint Facebook account comment. I work as a web content editor and I see this apostrophe mistake all the time from writers who supposedly hold English degrees, and it’s a huge pet peeve! The its/it’s thing is pretty rampant as well.

  12. Jonathan says:

    Go to the bathroom at McDonald’s, in other words, rephrase and don’t worry about it–but never miss an opportunity to hit the head.

  13. gealach says:

    Reblogged this on Gealachs Blogg and commented:
    Den här bloggen förklarar grammatik på ett riktigt roligt sätt!

  14. Beth says:

    I’m reading back through the posts I’ve missed… it seems I spoke to soon when I commented on the post that followed this. Bless your heart! And I totally giggled when I put the it’s contraction at the end of the sentence. Yet another way to sound ridiculous when one speaks…

    • Kristin B says:

      You spoke “to” soon? Lol..The to/too mistake is one of my favorites.

      This is my first time on this site and it has thoroughly entertained me. Bravo!

      • Beth says:

        Oh, shoot! Typo of the worst sort!

        For the record, I know my to, too, and two up in my brain. It is questionable, however, as to whether or not the information makes it from the brain to my fingers… especially if my brain is moving faster than the fingers are typing. It’s all in good fun, though. :)

  15. Serenaif says:

    Those tips on grammar are quite interesting for non-english speakers, like me.
    Plus your comics clear things up with humour. Good job! ^__^

  16. bla says:

    I like these comics but I really would like to see what the correct sentence is. As a non-native English speaker that would help alot (http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html).

  17. Pingback: Apostrophe atrocity « Ruth Davies: centrEditing

  18. Pingback: The Single Couple – Moron or Oxymoron? | Intentious

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