April 24, 2014

The Apostrophe and Stupid – Sometimes They Go Together

grammar girl punctuationRepeated misuse of the possessive apostrophe in your writing makes you look stupid. OK, if you don’t claim to be a copywriter, journalist, or other professional writer, most people will probably cut you some slack for including an errant apostrophe in your blogs and emails. But proper use of this little placeholder is easy to master, so make an effort to get it right. You’ll look instantly smarter to other smart people who read your content — #rockstar.

Schools don’t teach punctuation the way they used to. So lots of people who don’t write for a living, and who’ve been out of academics a while, don’t remember a thing about these rules. I don’t expect everyone to write like a pro, but reading the various blogs and other articles on the Web would be a lot nicer if your typical hobby blogger used proper punctuation. Sadly, I know of at least one self-proclaimed copywriter and editor who regularly publishes content on her blog, and also in a little free column she writes, with misused apostrophes. And, she’s most likely not the only one out there without an apostro-clue.

Hence, the humble apostrophe represents one of the most abused and misused punctuation marks in our language.

An Apostrophe and the Letter S

Do not use an apostrophe just because a word ends in S. This marks one of the most common errors in apostrophe use and it truly does make the author look stupid. I’ve seen this most frequently with non-possessive plural nouns, but people do it with verbs too.

Examples (I’ve actually seen many of these in real life. Ugh!):

  • How do dad’s do it?
  • Dolphin’s are my favorite animals.
  • Fresh peach pie’s for sale.
  • Please place dirty coffee mug’s on the tray.
  • Once the bird fly’s away for winter, it won’t return until spring.
  • She eat’s out with her lover every day.

For the love of all things holy, please, stop doing this!

The apostrophe, in general, does one of two things:

  • Creates a possessive noun
  • Indicates an omission of letters

I’m examining the proper use of the possessive apostrophe in this post. Its use in contractions will require an entirely separate story.

Obey the Apostrophe!

In English, we use the possessive apostrophe to indicate who owns what. Sure, people misuse it in contractions too, but the possessive apostrophe causes the most grief. It’s almost as if the writer has some faint, barely-there recollection of using it in school, so they throw a few in for good measure. Absolutely maddening! One of my favorite books about punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss follows a zero tolerance approach to punctuation. Not only does Truss make punctuation interesting, you’ll learn something too.

The possessive apostrophe makes a bold statement about ownership. It shows that he belongs to her, this belongs to that, he own this, they own that, etc.

Add an apostrophe s to the end of a singular noun that doesn’t end in s.

The girl’s Jeep pulled the Rover out of the mud. 

The dolphin’s fin appeared above the water.

Add an apostrophe s to the end of a singular noun that ends in s (with some exceptions).

Put Thomas’s wallet down on the table.

That is Doris’s Sig Sauer handgun.

Add an apostrophe s to a plural noun that doesn’t end in s.

The men’s room is around the corner.

The deer’s horns became stuck in the dead tree.

Just add an apostrophe (and no s!) to the end of plural nouns that end in s.

My friends’ cars all had slashed tires.

The frightened cat ran into the dogs’ kennels.

Finally, check out this fantastic example of how a simple apostrophe can change the entire meaning of a sentence:

My brother’s friend’s shoes (Indicates one brother with one friend.)

My brothers’ friends’ shoes (Indicates two or more brothers with two or more friends.)

My brothers’ friend’s shoes (Indicates two or more brothers with their one friend.) 

My brother’s friends’ shoes (Indicates one brother and he has two or more friends.)

Watch this cute video about possessive apostrophes. It includes real pictures of apostrophe abuse in businesses and elsewhere.

Just for grins, check out the Apostrophe Catastrophe website, showcasing the world’s worst punctuation.

Got any crazy punctuation stories to share? I’d love to hear them.

 

Photo: beach girl from asia.cnet.com

About Samantha Gluck

Not only am I the chief editor of this multi-author online magazine, I'm a content creator and social media marketing strategist with a background in journalism, finance, & healthcare. I began my content marketing agency, All Media Freelance, LLC, in 2010 and lead a well-rounded, talented team of multi-channel content strategists and niche writers. I've developed and managed print and digital content projects for health care, fitness, financial services, mental health, non-profit, and automotive publishers, as well as for biotechnology brands.

Comments

  1. Great, MUCH-needed article, and funny video!

    I used to drive past a family sign that said, “The Materi’s.” The Materi Family – fine. Emily Materi’s House – OK. But not The Materi’s!

  2. Hilarious video and good reminder to use an apostrophe wisely. When in doubt, grab a reference book and look up the apostrophe. If you’ve made mistakes on your blog posts, articles, etc., you could go back and correct them. :)
    Amandah recently posted..Comment on 7 Simple Tips on Blog Writing for Your Business by Blog Content Costs Your Company Money – Fix It – Savvy-WriterMy Profile

    • Haha! I’m glad you liked the video. It made me cringe to see the actual photographs of business signs and related, bearing the errant apostrophe (and sometimes even two!). I make mistakes and typos just like anyone else, but these simple basics of grammar and punctuation should not present such a problem for people! I just don’t get it. And you’re right. It’s always important to go back and correct errors when you find them in your articles and stories. I’ve corrected my fair share after the fact, that’s for sure!

  3. Finally someone calls out the horrendous misuse of the English language. Why can’t people write (or speak for that matter) with correct grammar? No wonder the rest of the world thinks we are stupid…

    • Thanks, Jessica! That’s exactly what I think. People are getting increasingly worse in their speech and their ability to convey thoughts or a message in the written word using proper grammar and punctuation.

  4. Hi Sam!

    You know that english is my second language, but one thing I am proud of is of my grammar. I may have a strong accent when I speak, but when I write, you would think I was born, raised and went to school and college in the US.

    Besides the apostrophe catastrophes, one thing that drives me INSANE is seeing words in spanish misspelled and misused. ACK!!!! I am telling you they should hire me to translate their labels in their products. I am talking about big companies!!! (detergents, food, clothing, etc…).

    I take pride on my spanish too. They say that the spanish from colombians is the best spoken – and written – in Latin America… I am not sure where did that come from but, I’ll take it! :)

    Great article!

    PS: I hope there’s no grammar errors in this comment… I would DIE!!!
    Flavia Andrews recently posted..Transitioning from Nursery to Toddler RoomMy Profile

    • Haha! Flavia, so wonderful to see you here! Yes, you speak and write perfect English and (I’m sure) Spanish as well.

      You should take pride in speaking and writing correctly. It drives me nuts that many people just don’t think it’s important. That’s not to say that I don’t make errors and accidentally overlook typos, on occasion. I certainly do! I just think it’s important to keep all languages pure and the only way to do that is to pass on excellence to our own children and others.

      No errors in your comment, my gorgeous friend. I’ve missed you!

      Samantha
      XOXO

  5. Thanks for the needed and redundant lesson, these small punctuation marks along with commas curse me!
    Greg Urbano recently posted..Your postcard made it to England.My Profile

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