Wednesday, April 04, 2012


Stop what you're doing.

Seriously. Put the Google Machine down a minute, and let's talk apostrophes. You know. That thing that's sandwiched between the "let" and the S that follows.

The English language is under a bloody siege, and apostrophes are the Third Reich of grammatical warfare.

Every day I see an incorrectly used apostrophe and it makes me want to simultaneously poke out my eyes with a dull Number 2 pencil, as well as reach for a bottle of White Out.

I am not alone in my disdain for the errant apostrophe.

These guys wrote a book about their cross-country quest to correct poor punctuation. This guy has a blog dedicated to poorly used apostrophes. Even Arianna hates apostrophe errors.

Here's the hard and fast rule for apostrophes. They connote possession, not plurality. 

Adding an S connotes plurality.

We also pull the trigger on apostrophes for contractions, but that's (as in, that is) an entirely different topic for another day.

Back to possession vs. plurality. Let's talk about teachers. The word "teacher's" with an apostrophe implies possession. The teacher's desk. The teacher's chair. We're talking about one teacher who possesses one desk and one chair.

Now, if we're talking about a bunch of teachers who collectively possess a desk, that word would be "teachers'". As in teacher + s + apostrophe. That means a bunch of teachers own a desk together.

If we're talking about a bunch of teachers, we DO NOT use an apostrophe.

Because an apostrophe only connotes possession. Or a contraction.

Only. No ifs, ands or buts.

You might think I'm being anal, but I'm not. I'm just critically underscoring a grammar error that is eroding the accurate expressiveness of our language.

Like petty crime, if we let the little mistakes squeak by, we open ourselves up to even bigger grievances.

If you're struggling with the mechanics of writing, there are lots of sources to turn to for help. For almost 20 years, the AP Stylebook has been my trusted resource. In most instances, if it's fit to print, it's fit to write.

If you don't consider yourself a journalist, the Chicago Manual of Style is an excellent source for proper writing guidelines and editorial style.

And if you don't have time to dive into a credible style guide, I'll leave you with this niggling nugget:

Apostrophes offer ownership. 

Repeat it to yourself 20 times, and use that little squiggle a little bit more judiciously.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

1 comment:

Colin Talcroft said...

It's nice to see someone standing up for some of our most important little squiggles. I fear, however, that those who care already know, while those who don't never will. Let's hope, at least, that a post like this catches a few of the in-betweens--those who are simply ignorant or unsure--and sets them on the right path. :)