It's Just Not That Difficult!

Light-hearted Instruction on the correct usage of the apostrophe.

As I was thumbing through a coupon book this week, I noticed an offer that almost set my hair on fire. A popular seafood restaurant offered a special targeted to the “Mom’s” in the area.  The copy should have read “For the moms in the area.” (The establishment remains nameless to protect the uninformed. You know who you are.) WHAT?  Surely, the ad designer meant to promote the eatery to more than one mother. And what does that mother own, anyway?

For the record: apostrophes have several useful purposes. The two most common include showing ownership and indicating the omission of letters.  That rule seems clear enough, as in the following sentence: It’s six o’clock, and I’m about to put my family’s dinner on the table. 

The first three apostrophes indicate letter omission, and the last shows

Compare that sentence to the following:  It’s seven o’clock, so most of us are washing our families’ dishes

Notice how the plural possessive differs from the singular
form—families’ vs. family’s.  Admittedly, grammar and punctuation rules often have exceptions, as in: We’re hoping to have the children’s homework  teleconference.  Whew!

Another common abuse of apostrophes appears with the possessive pronoun, particularly the word “its.”

People who would never dare to write his’s, her’s, their’s, or our’s  to indicate ownership readily interchange it’s for its


Here’s a simple rule: Possessive pronouns NEVER use apostrophes. That
rule is as unambiguous as one can find in English, yet one of the most
abused. The word it’s remains the contraction, (shortened form) of the words it is. Yet look around to find various misuses of these two words: “HOHO’S is having it’s annual sale!  Its time for saving’s at HOHO’S department
store!”  YIKES!

Can you find the errors in the following sentence?

Avoid sending cards’ with unnecessary apostrophe’s!  

Remember: An apostrophe is not merely decorative, placed hither and yon to adorn letters and cards. It does serve a purpose, and that is NOT to form the plurals of words and names. 

Now the comma, on the other hand . . . Ah, but that’s a tale for another

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Bill Fasula May 06, 2012 at 11:05 AM
I suggest including the difference between then and than.
Becki Pastor May 07, 2012 at 10:47 PM
I love this article!! I have a pet peeve about poor grammar!! It drives me insane when the improper word, tense or punctuation is used. Though to be fair, I have the hardest time refraining from ending a sentence with a preposition!!
Laura I. Maniglia May 08, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Thank you! Some grammarians are eschewing that last "rule" if the sentence sounds too convoluted as a result: e.g. "That is something with which I can agree." Formal writing and the vernacular are different, after all.
Andurant Krinn May 09, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Very nice piece! It helps everyone to be made familiar with simple rules like this, now and then. Most spellcheckers and automated tools get this wrong on occasion, as well.
Melissa Nicefaro May 10, 2012 at 03:05 AM
Aaaah. That was refreshing. Becki, I share your pet peeve. I am a proud member of the Typo Eradication Advancement League (http://www.facebook.com/#!/greattypohunt). I'm not perfect, but I do love finding typos. :)


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