A rant upon the proper use of the apostrophe

Consider our friend the apostrophe. It’s a tiny little thing, and it really doesn’t ask all that much of us. It’s just there to help us make our language cleaner and quicker. But in recent years, folks have forgotten how to put the humble apostrophe where it needs to be. The first thing we want to remember is that it has two jobs: first, it can stand in for letters or whole parts of certain common words so that we don’t (or do not) have to say or write them over and over again. “Does not” becomes “doesn’t, “you are” becomes “you’re,” and “forcastle” becomes “fo’c’s’le.” (That’s a part of a ship, as well as a bitchin’ scrabble word — see? being a grammar geek is fun!) But getting back to our tiny friend’s functions, well, we just had an example of its second job right there. Did you spot it? It also lets us know when something belongs to something else, such as Sally’s umbrella, or Billy’s house, or Gertrude’s overbite. It’s when those two functions clash that the apostrophe can become tricky.  “It is” has already become “it’s” under the first rule, so how do you know when it has something belonging to it? Well, in that case, we give the apostrophe a break, and it can sit back, knowing its job has been done just by the letters alone. Similarly, since “you are” shortens so nicely to “you’re“, your friend the apostrophe doesn’t mind not being around when you have a possessive to deal with: you’re on your own with your things. Simple, right? But there’s a problem. Our good friend the apostrophe is getting tired. It’s simply shagged out because people misuse it, putting it where it doesn’t belong. I’m talking about plurals. The apostrophe does NOT need to be involved if we’re talking about more than one thing. Simple misunderstandings like “the Robinson’s” on a front door plate simply makes the apostrophe sigh in resignation; it’s easy to see why people get that one wrong (a name plate simply announces that the Robinsons live there. Yes, the house can be correctly referred to as the Robinson’s (house), but one doesn’t need to label the house as a house, just find out who lives there, hence no apostrophe is necessary on the house’s nameplate). However, abominations like “Taco’s” simply make the poor apostrophe — and anyone who loves the English language — wince in sheer grammatical agony. There is a box labeled “paper clip’s” in the office at work; I suppose it might work if one considered that the box belonged to the paper clips, but I don’t think the “patient file’s” really own their own filing cabinet, unless they’ve been really patient and saved some hard cash. Such wanton abuses like “want’s” and “say’s” would, in a civilized world, be punishable by public flogging. That’s not even a plural, that’s declension, which NEVER requires any f**king apostrophe, okay? Sorry, where was I? The one place where the apostrophe is willing to help a plural is when we’re talking about more than one letter or number, such as if I had three “E’s” in scrabble (I always get all vowels), or had tickets to see the B-52’s (I wish). Now what if a group of things belonged to a group of other things? Say I was about to talk about my the level of patience my friends have for my rants, I could talk about my friends’ patience. There, the apostrophe obligingly moves to the other side of the “s,” so we know there’s more than one thing that possesses something else. See, the apostrophe only wants to help us make things clearer, not confuse us. Is it really so much to ask to learn a few, simple rules in order to be better understood? Remember, the apostrophe you save could be your own!

EDIT: I’ve been noticing from my blog stats that this particular post is popular in India – hello out there and greetings from the other side of the world! Just wanted to say thanks for reading, and if this is for something like a school project, then I’m honored to have been of assistance! Many Blessings!

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2 Responses to A rant upon the proper use of the apostrophe

  1. Marna says:

    Spike, that was fantastically inspired! A hoot! A joy to read. Thank you. I lament myself, time and time again, reading others’ writing (see that!) at the horrendous misuse and abuse of the apostrophe. Drives me nuts. I just never thought to rant about it. Good on you, girlfriend. You are totally awesome! I love you!

    • phoenyxrose says:

      Yes, well, it was due to the fact that I was reading some otherwise well-written fanfiction, but the interchangeability of “it’s” and “its” was driving me completely batshit and spoiling the mood of an otherwise … er … emotionally charged passage.

      Perhaps first of a series, yes?

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