May 11, 2007

Confessions of a Radical Apostrophist

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Left: Screenshot of a recent Drudge Report headline with a misused apostrophe; click for larger image of the apostrophe abuse

I am admittedly a person who places a high value on the written words, and over the past decade I have worked hard to hone my skills as a writer. Still, when I come across most grammatical and spelling errors in the writing of other people, I usually pay no attention to such mistakes; after all, it has been only a few years since I have "arrived" as a writer.

And then there is the apostrophe.

Nothing brings me greater consternation as a reader than stumbling upon an improperly used apostrophe. I gnash my teeth, growl, and declare to the heavens that civilization as we know it is doomed unless people begin to grasp the relatively simple rules regarding apostrophe usage.

There are just three basic uses for the apostrophe in writing:
1. To form possesive nouns: "the boy's hat," "the dog's bone";
2. To show the omission of letters: "don't run in the house," "three o'clock";
3. To form plurals of lowercase letters: "mind your p's and q's."
Now, I recognize that there are a few issues related to apostrophes that can be confusing, like whether we should write "Jesus' disciples" or "Jesus's disciples" (go with the first). But I find there are many writers who feel a compulsion to use apostrophes every time they see the letter S:
Barry ran outside to help bring in the pizza's and bottle's of pop.

or

Sheila liked to play with her doll's, stuffed animal's, and crayon's.
And the most abused apostrophe of all is without a doubt the insertion of this mark in the personal pronoun its: The dog lost its bone.

It's can only mean one thing, the contraction form of "it is."

Yes, given the problems the human race faces, improper apostrophe usage must rank somewhere near the very bottom of the list, but if we all pull together as a team... (apologies to Pink Floyd).

End rant.

6 comments:

historymike said...

In anticipation of other questions similar to the two emails I received:

The improper apostrophe use in the Drudge Report headline is with the word "DAY'S," which should be the plural noun "DAYS."

President Bush's quote correctly uses the apostrophe in "THERE'S," as in "THERE IS" (well, sort of - some grammarians frown on "there's"), but the correct verb form to match the plural "DAYS" should have been "THERE ARE."

Had GWB been using correct grammar, the headline would have read: "THERE ARE BETTER DAYS AHEAD."

Anonymous said...

Mike,

Here is something I've wondered . . . what is more appropriate . . . Masters degree or Master's degree. I usually say that I have a Master of Arts to avoid it, but I would like to know. Thanks.

historymike said...

(places on Grammar Man hat)

Yes, Master of Arts or Master's degree would be correct.

(takes off Grammar Man hat and goes outside to pull dandelions).

Anonymous said...

Mike,

I'm happy to report that I've correctly used Master's degree.
Phew!

Hooda Thunkit said...

I've recently begun to break myself of misapplying rule number three.

I could have sworn that's the way that I learned it though.

My inspiration for correctly learning the usage after so many years was a certain "historymike."

Thank you Mike ;-)

Hooda Thunkit said...

Correction:

Make that bad example #3.

I'm still working on proofreading ;-)