Those Pesky Apostrophes

Those Pesky Apostrophes
by Laverne Daley
September 14, 2007

They trip us up all the time, those pesky apostrophes. We debate if it should be McDonald’s or McDonalds’. Should we imprint The Smith’s or The Smiths on the mailbox? Is the almost weekly comic-strip rage of Dagwood’s boss the result of Mr. Dithers’ temper or Mr. Dithers’s temper?

Apostrophes are a dilemma for many of us and a source of frustration for some. Until I did a Google search, I had no idea that so many people were bothered by apostrophes. When it comes to misused apostrophes, I tend to grit my teeth and pass them by, but others take a more proactive approach.

Blogdom is ablaze with examples of apostrophe abuse in everyday life. Chris Duval’s most interesting blog Apostrophe Abuse includes photos documenting scores of those pesky apostrophes. I like to visit the blog regularly to see the latest photos and marvel at the myriad ways that people misuse the tiny marks.

Lots of those misused apostrophes are associated with food: on restaurant signs and menus (Now Serving Pasta’s) (corn or green bean’s); at the market (tomatillo’s $1.99 per pound) (assorted tea’s $1.19). A tattoo parlor advertises 1000’s of design’s. A music poster promises a Roomful of Blues by 4 Time Grammy Nominee’s. A private property sign states “No Dog’s Allowed.” A garbage container advises “Put Trash in It’s Place.” A zoo specifies “Member’s Only,” and an airport directs passengers, “For Carry-On’s, Prepare for Take-Off.” Then there is my personal favorite, “Dont’t Drink and Drive.”

Much of the misuse happens because people get mixed up on plurals, even though rules are clear. Names of persons and other proper nouns form the plural by adding s or es. No apostrophe.

We do use apostrophes in proverbial expressions like “Mind your p’s and q’s” or “Dot your I’s and cross your t’s,” but we should italicize when we do.

Apostrophes can be troublesome even when we’re not dealing with plurals, especially if pronouns or possessives are involved. I try to be very careful about pronouns, especially the pronoun it.

With an apostrophe, it’s means it is. Without the apostrophe, it denotes possession, as in “The dog wagged its tail.” To muddy the situation more, some possessive pronouns take no apostrophe at all: mine, ours, yours, his, hers, theirs, whose. I grab my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style whenever I have questions about pronouns and apostrophes.

Although apostrophes and pronouns can be a trial, apostrophes and possessives can be even more so, because possessives are tricky all by themselves. With apostrophes, they can be headache-inducing. But that’s a topic for another day.

Please leave a comment.

©2007 by Laverne Daley
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape


One Comment on “Those Pesky Apostrophes”

  1. ldaley says:

    Laura, thanks for reminding me about The Copywriter’s Handbook. It’s an excellent source. My copy was loaned to an aspiring freelancer and not returned. This will remind me to ask for it back. Your comment was appended to the Welcome post instead of Those Pesky Apostrophes, so I’m re-entering it here to let everybody connect it with the right post.
    Here is Laura’s comment:
    ” I agree. Correcting the aggravating misuse of “its” and “it’s” is sometimes a
    full-time job, and can be quite tricky when a client insists his or her use is
    correct. It’s amazing how we can be so sure we know something, such as usage or
    spelling, and no matter what evidence is presented, we stubbornly cling to our
    belief that we are right. I keep The Elements of Style and my AP Stylebook close
    by, just in case I need to provide written proof of a rule. I also like having
    The Copyrighter’s Handbook around for more proof. (I even have a great old 9th
    grade grammar textbook on my desk just in case!) And let’s not even get into
    the argument about ending a sentence with a preposition….”

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