Apostrophes, Apostrophes Everywhere,
and Not One of Them Correct
Greetings, loyal readers. This new century has already become one full of changes to our everyday grammar usage. Some are nice, some are not so nice, and some are downright coronary inducing. The coronary-inducing trend that keeps the CG up at night (I kid you not!) is the tendency to use apostrophes simply everywhere. Perhaps people think using apostrophes all the time makes them appear smart. Perhaps they just like the way Mr. Apostrophe looks; I simply don't have a clue.
People go wrong because they use apostrophes without actually understanding why they're doing it. They may have a vague idea, but that's all. And a vague idea just isn't enough. Below are detailed explanations of the three functions of apostrophes.
1. To indicate contractions
2. To indicate plurals
3. To indicate possession
A contraction is a shorter form of two words, e.g., "that's" is the contraction for "that is." Some examples are:
you've got some 'splaining to do." (you have)
where's that bad dog, Speedy?" (where is)
- "Okay, but she's
not going to like it if you take her ferret to the parade without asking." (she is)
Possibly the most annoying of misuse of an apostrophe is when people think they have to add an apostrophe to indicate a plural. While this is generally not necessary, there are a couple of exceptions. The only times you use an apostrophe to indicate a plural are:
- To form plurals of abbreviations with periods, e.g., "Look, there's a roving gang of wild-eyed Ph.D.'s."
- With certain letters to eliminate any confusion, e.g., "I pride myself on dotting the i's."
That's it. All other times you indicate the plural of a noun by adding a plain "s," no apostrophe. You should NOT be writing sentences like these:
- "I'd like to tell you about our new color printer's."
- "I want to run some ad's in that fancy New York newspaper."
- "Gee, your pickle's sure are a funny shade of green."
In these sentences, the italicized words should be: "printers," "ads," and "pickles."
You chiefly use apostrophes with nouns to show possession:
- "The big fat cat's head was stuck in the box."
- "This particular shirt's buttons were extremely large."
- "Hey, you rotten kid--don't steal that rabbit's Trix!"
When the noun is already plural, you show possession by adding an apostrophe followed by an "s":
- "Get your children's toys out of my yard."
- "Where do you think the women's basketball is kept?"
BUT, if it's a plural noun that already ends in "s," you show possession by adding an apostrophe after the "s":
- "Two weeks' vacation seems like a lifetime."
- "Whoa, did you see the size of those lawyers' briefcases?"
There is one extremely important exception to the 's-indicates-possession rule: IT'S VS. ITS'
- "It's" means "It is."
- "Its" shows possession, as in "Its shoes were floppy and yellow."
The apostrophe can't show possession in this case, because then people wouldn't know if you meant:
"It's going to be a cold day on the banana farm before I ever talk to her again."
(it's = it is)
"The clown sadly tossed
its rubber nose into the center ring and walked away."
(its = the clown's rubber nose)
The CG never forgets the "it" rules, as many, many years ago while studying at the Academy, our English teacher Sister Dorothy Anne said to us, "Girls, you only use an apostrophe if you mean 'it is.' The next one of you who gets it wrong will receive an automatic 'F'." Well, talk about an incentive! If you, too, remember Sister Dorothy Anne's words, you should be fine.
And that brings this lesson to a close. Do the world--and yourselves--a favor and take all this to heart. If you have to, print out this column and carry it around as a crib sheet until you're confident you can do the right thing on your own. (And if you're ever not sure, look it up. Please don't make the CG start carrying an orange China Marker all the time.
Until next time,
don't forget that "good grammar is always in fashion."