Won’t Someone Please Rein in that Rogue Apostrophe?

Howdy, pardners!  As a writer, editor, and self-appointed grammar sheriff, I implore you today to help stamp out a nefarious outlaw who has been wreaking havoc all over the place.  Yes, it’s that “durn” outlaw Apostrophe, up to his old tricks!

I personally think it must be jealousy that motivates Apostrophe.  Or maybe it’s just contempt for the good.  He can’t stand to see the nice, quiet, peaceful “folk” like Period and Question Mark behaving themselves.  Admire and emulate them?  No sir!  Apostrophe likes to go in and stir up trouble instead.  So, not content with his own stomping grounds, he rudely butts in where he doesn’t belong.

Let’s review, shall we, where Apostrophe does belong (and believe me, he has plenty of places):

  • Where he is needed to indicate singular possession (showing that one person/thing owns something).  Examples:  Stephanie’s book, the cat’s meow
  • Where he is needed to indicate plural possession (showing that more than one person/thing owns something).  Example:  the girls’ mother
  • Officiating at the marriage of two words (also known as a contraction).  Examples:  didn’t, I’ll, she’s, I’ve
  • In literature:  Indicating that, yes, the writer knows how to spell, but that they would like you to pronounce a word without the final g in order to get some local flavor in their writing.  Example: puddin’, runnin’
  • In poetry (or sometimes songs):  Sometimes poets like to cheat a little on their syllable count, so they hire Apostrophe to come in and replace part of a word.  Example:  e’er (instead of ever)

Sounds like a pretty decent amount of room for Apostrophe, doesn’t it?  I mean, look how many times I’ve used him just in this post!  Well, Apostrophe has gone rogue.  Not content with his proper uses, he’s started trespassing all over the place.  Just look at all the places he keeps showing up:

  • Inside of plural words.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people write paper’s, when they really mean papers, or computer’s when they really mean computers.  The only time when Apostrophe has any right showing up in a plural word (that is not showing possession) is when it’s the plural form of a letter or of a word itself.  Examples:  Did you dot all your i’s?  That ditzy girl uses at least five like’s in every sentence!
  • Inside of poor, defenseless verbs.  Just because verbs like runs and jumps happen to end in s, Apostrophe thinks he can turn them into run’s and jump’s.  Oh, the inhumanity!
  • As the instigator of the Great War between It’s and Its:  It’s means “it is”.  Its means “belonging to it”.  Oh yes, there is a VERY big difference.
  • In possessive pronouns.  Words like ours and theirs don’t need Apostrophe.  They don’t want Apostrophe.  They feel gravely insulted when he shows up!
  • And of course, my own personal pet-peeve:  In numbers and years.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen this, I would be able to pay off my student loans and retire to my own private island, where my personal masseuse would pamper me and my personal chef would serve me rare delicacies . . .  you get the idea.  Instead of 1900s and 1920s, Apostrophe leaps in and changes them into 1900’s and 1920’s.  Instead of temperatures being in the low 90s, they wind up in the low 90’s.  Curse you, Apostrophe!

Apostrophe cannot be allowed to continue unchecked on this wave of crime.  He must be stopped!  You can help me to track down this dastardly villain and bring him to justice.  Tell me, have you seen him hanging around somewhere where he doesn’t belong?  What’s the most atrocious thing you have seen Apostrophe do?

22 thoughts on “Won’t Someone Please Rein in that Rogue Apostrophe?

  1. Apostrophe can also be used to denote correct pronunciation or a break between syllables in a word such as in Amon’hur or Me’edbar’arot.

  2. So true, so true. It’s and its drive me crazy.

    Just wanted to mention something: you probably mean “rein” instead of “reign”? 🙂 Also, for some weird reason, most of the apostrophes in the article are backwards. They curve right instead of left. Backwards apostrophes bug me more than misplaced apostrophes.

    1. Yes, I noticed the backwards issue as well. I have no idea why that happened, but it was annoying me. I figure it’s probably just Apostrophe having more fun at the expense of peaceful citizens!

      1. Okay, went back and retyped all of Apostrophe’s occurrences, and now they’re all pointing the right way. Ha! Take THAT, Apostrophe!

  3. And all God’s people said . . . “AMEN!”

    Mr. Apostrophe acheives all this mischief by flying below the radar of most writers’ consciousness. After leaving him out of his proper places for an entire freshperson essay, they suddenly realize that they probably need to use him somewhere and stick him in where he doesn’t belong. He smirks all the way to the bank. If I had a dollar for every essay I’ve graded where the ONLY place he shows up is an illegitimate one, I could join you on that island–which is probably the only place where we could escape Apostrophe Abuse.

    Then there is his best occurence ever: “I’ve had an Apostrophe!” — Smee

  4. A few of those rules I believe I may have forgotten- I would like to think I follow them instinctively, but considering myriad other bad habits I’m in the process of breaking as I get back into writing, I wouldn’t bet on it.

    I remember “it’s” vs. “its” used to give me trouble- I’m fairly certain I don’t mix them up anymore. I wasn’t aware that the correct form of abbreviated decades does not include an apostrophe … I’ve simply never given it any thought. Thanks for the heads up! I’ll be sure to keep a good look out for the varmint from here on. XD

  5. Hmm, it cannot just be a coincidence that I had to explain apostrophes to two students today while tutoring. I had one who used Gods, God, and Gods’ when she really meant “God’s”.

    One would imagine that I was explaining it to a six year old who was being introduced to Apostrophe for the first time. Not so much. These were college students. The acquaintance, it seems, was never officially made.

    1. I would’ve, but we aren’t allowed to send students off to outside, unsanctioned sources. Apparently, that has caused issues in the past, since the administrators can’t verify the sources before we recommend them to the students.

    1. Yes! That’s the spirit! Let’s all grab our pitchforks and march in unison against the abomination that is grammar abuse!

  6. There go those pitchforks again… They get a lot of use around here, don’t they? Or maybe just around Melissa.

    Apostrophe may be dastardly, but my own personal nemesis is the comma. I may be overly fond of it.

    1. Yes, I dearly love Comma as well. I’ll be writing a post on him later, unless someone else beats me to it.

  7. You might not like my saying this — and I know it’s not the current fashion — but one sanctioned use is in the plurals of acronyms and capitalized abbreviations:

    “Hand me those CD’s”
    “Show me your ID’s”

    Far from illiterate, it was an approved, albeit obscure, usage well within the memory of writers who still go dancing. It was the obscurity, I’d suppose, that led to it’s being confused with the ‘grocers apostrophe’, which it is not. If you have a collection of writer’s guides, check out some of the older ones.

    1. Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook is in agreement with you. I generally do not use that handbook, however, as my history background has lead me into a close personal relationship with the Turabian manual (also known as the Chicago Manual of Style).

      According to the latest edition of the Turabian manual (or, as I like to lovingly refer to it, the Fount of All Grammatical Wisdom), it is proper to place an apostrophe in the plural form of an abbreviation only when the abbreviation contains internal periods or both capital and lowercase letters. An example of would be PhD’s (or Ph.D’s) Turabian’s manual does not sanction the use of the apostrophe in a the plural form of abbreviations that do not fit those categories. So, according to Turabian’s standards, it should be CDs, not CD’s.

      Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage does not bother to touch on the issue, likely because it was not much of an issue when my edition was published (1966). My two history style guides likewise avoid the issue, though they do advise cutting down on unnecessary punctuation, so I am relatively certain they would heed Turabian’s guidelines. My other style guide, Strunk and White’s fun little guide, The Elements of Style, only hits on the basics of apostrophe use, likely for the same reason as Wilson Follett’s.

      So who is actually correct here? I’d say it depends mostly on who is doing the grading!

      (Thanks for the fun though; I am a sick enough individual that I actually enjoy lugging out my collection of style guides to look up less common uses of punctuation.)

      1. And of course, as it is late, I made a typo in my response to a remark made on a post about grammar! That’ll teach me to keep writing at these hours!

        Ten points to the first person to catch my typo. Ten more if you can find one that I didn’t notice.

  8. Fabulous article…still trying to claim those ten points but it’s late and my eyes aren’t working. Will try tomorrow!

    One question for you: I am reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and have come across his unusual spelling of ‘ca’n’t’. Delving deeper, I discovered his arguments for his style of contractions and I have to say, they are quite logical. What do you think?

    See someone else’s comments for more information: http://thepaleographer.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/lewis-carroll-his-critics-and-his-apostrophes/

  9. “the use of the apostrophe in a the plural form of abbreviations.”

    You can’t use the indefinite and the definite article at the same time.

    What can I use my ten points for? (Oops–I mean, for what can I use my ten points?). Hope I didn’t just lose them . . .

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