Apostrophe catastrophe

You may or may not know this about me, but I am very good at grammar. I am an excellent speller. I rarely make errors in sentence structure, capitalization, or punctuation (unless I want to, of course). This is in both English and French.

I am also quite good at finding and correcting other peoples’ mistakes in these areas. It’s a bit of a dubious skill, because I discover such mistakes everywhere, even when I don’t want to, and it can be rather exasperating. The written world is full of spelling and grammatical mistakes, and if I’m reading it, I will spot them.

But by far, the writing error that pisses me off the most is the misuse of the apostrophe.

You know what I’m talking about: “your” versus “you’re ” , “dogs” versus “dog’s”, “it’s” versus “its”.

There are RULES, people!

If the word you’re writing can be split into two separate words, such as “you are” from “you’re”, then the apostrophe is required to show where the missing letter or letters are. It’s called a contraction, because you’re contracting two words into one and taking a letter or two out.

If a plural is intended, such as “all the dogs”, then there is no apostrophe. Ever. If something belongs to the subject, such as “the dog’s bone”, then an apostrophe is necessary. This is called the possessive, and the only way you can show this is with an apostrophe before the “s”. You don’t have a choice in the matter.

Now, “its/ it’s” can be tricky, granted. But again, there are rules. If it’s a contraction and what you really mean is “it is”, then the contraction rule applies and you have to put in the apostrophe. You can’t opt out. You HAVE to put in the apostrophe to show where the missing letter should be. If it’s a possessive, as in when writing about something genderless such as a table and you want to write about “its surface”, then in this case ONLY do you omit the apostrophe. Did you get that? In this case ONLY! This is an exception to the general possessive rule. One of the ONLY exceptions to the possessive rule. How hard can that be to remember one of the ONLY exceptions to the possessive rule?!

Yes, of course I know that there are other incidences of apostrophe issues in written English, but these are the ones that I notice the most frequently.

So, because I have now shared some of my apostrophe expertise with you as a public service, I now bestow upon myself the following award. I found it over at The Bloggess, and she said anybody could claim it if they chose to. Well, I choose to. Yay me.


17 responses to “Apostrophe catastrophe

  1. Bless you for this, lovely friend. I find myself consistently outraged by ignorant linguistic usage. And some of the worst errors can be seen in newspaper items, including headlines. Come on, people. It’s your language; it’s about communication. One of the biggest curses, in my esteem, is spellcheck since it doesn’t differentiate between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ and many others.

    • mrwriteon – You know, I used to think I was just weird about constantly finding written grammar and spelling errors everywhere I looked, and almost obsessive-compulsive about trying to correct them all. But now I’m discovering that I have many, many kindred spirits out there in Blogland! It’s most reassuring, I must say!

  2. Okay, I guess technically, you’re right. Sorry.

    • XUP – Hey, that’s okay. I mean, you’re going to PARIS! Who would care about my sentence structures when she’s going to PARIS?

  3. Mrs Jones – I must bow to your superior ability with spotting spelling errors (I still have to read the page). However, I shall practice and maybe one day I shall be as skilled as you. So go grab that award!

    XUP – Which third sentence? The one I checked is a real sentence. But I also have a few co-workers who continually make written grammar and spelling errors – and they’re teachers, which makes it all the more awful!

  4. Your third “sentence” is a fragment. (though I’m sure that was intentional) But otherwise I agree. We were at a teaming session yesterday from work and there was a lot of “writing stuff on big pieces of paper and taping them all over the walls” going on. I discovered that none of my coworkers can write so much as a sentence without making grammar and/or spelling errors.

  5. I’d forgotten about The Bloggess’ award (see, I did it right, just there!) so I’ll head on over and award myself – thanks for the reminder!

  6. Hello pinklea – you were kind enough to leave a comment over at my place, so I thought I’d reciprocate. And how relieved to see I’m not the only Grammar Nazi on the planet! I have the weird ability to be able to spot spelling mistakes on a page of writing WITHOUT READING THE PAGE FIRST!!! I just sort of scan it and they leap out and assault my eyeballs. Anyway, I shall blogroll you and enjoy reading your back catalogue at my leisure.

  7. I have read about a movement afoot to abolish the apostrophe because it is useless and misused.
    Yeah, that’s the answer – forget about teaching proper use and just get rid of it. It is in the way, is it not?

    • VioletSky – But … but … what would I teach kids? What would I rant about? What other knowledge would I be so proud of possessing? No, no, the apostrophe must stay – and we must also keep the penny as part of our currency.

  8. My pet peeves come down to spoken rather than written – mostly because the typing generation has deadened my sense of outrage with the typos and acronyms and texting. But when someone speaking to me says, “Irregardless” my hackles rise.

    • Wenderina – I hear ya! That’s a whole other post: people using words either completely incorrectly or that don’t even exist.

      Bevchen – I think you should take the award for your blog, too. People like us need to stick together, and give each other credit when credit is due!

  9. I HAVE to know the difference between its and it’s, otherwise I’d be a pretty poor translator!

    In German there is noi apostrophe in possesives… EVER, which confuses me no end.

  10. One mistake here or there doesn’t bother me, because typos do happen and I make them as well. What is really aggravating, however, is when people communicate SOLELY in bad grammar and spelling. Many teens nowadays, thanks to texting and whatnot, literally cannot spell or form coherent sentences!

    • Pauline – Yes, people do make occasional mistakes, and you’re right, that’s not the issue. But that texting shorthand stuff (we call it “MSNglish”, by the way) being mistaken for proper writing skills is becoming a huge problem in schools, particularly. We try to teach them how to write intelligently, but because they so rarely practice it and don’t care anyway, they just don’t learn the skills. Sigh …

  11. Oh, this drives me insane too.

    As well as there and their.

    And its CDs and DVDs people, NO APOSTROPHE!!! it’s plural not possesive. Everyone seems to make that mistake and it makes me want to scream in frustration.

    But really, I think people write much better generally in English than in French. I often want to slap people when they send me emails in French.


    Ah, that helped.

    • Jazz – You know, I was totally thinking of you when I wrote this post! Feel free to take the award for your blog, if you care to. 🙂 I’m not sure if I agree that there’s generally better writing in English than in French, though. I cannot count the number of times I have read things like “j’ai marcher” or “je besoin” from native French speakers!