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Using the Apostrophe (Punctuation, Part 3)

Updated on November 25, 2010

It's all double-Dutch to your spellcheck!

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Writers often feel overwhelmed with apostrophes, etc.  photo ways to teach kids how to use the apostrophe in case they become greengrocers!  photo
Writers often feel overwhelmed with apostrophes, etc.  photo
Writers often feel overwhelmed with apostrophes, etc. photo
Innovative ways to teach kids how to use the apostrophe in case they become greengrocers!  photo
Innovative ways to teach kids how to use the apostrophe in case they become greengrocers! photo

Greengrocers Hate the Apostrophe

 Many years ago, even before I was swinging in daddy's cojones, the apostrophe was used to indicate missing or dropped letters in a word. By many years ago; I actually mean several centuries, in fact, all the way back to the Bard's time (and here was out first apostrophe of this article). As most know, one of the most important uses of the apostrophe in modern times is to indicate the possessive noun: instead of laboriously penning, “All the way back to the time of the Bard,” we can shorten things as shown.

The poor old apostrophe has never known much surcease though the ages, being changed, railed-against by various erudite publications, and gentlemen who should have been told to “get a life” had that useful criticism been in vogue back then.

First of all, it might be germane (but still in English, don’t panic!), to list the Possessive determiners and Possessive pronouns that DON’T require the apostrophe (but all too often get a gratuitously saddled with one, for good luck, apparently).

They are:- Determiners: my, our...your, your...his, their...her, their...its, their.

Pronouns, mine, ours...yours, yours...his, theirs...hers, theirs...and its, theirs.

Notice especially the “its” in this group. (Not “tits,“ you berk!) It is the one possessive singular most often misused. People write “”Its the best time of the year,” wrongly dropping the apostrophe from the “it is” contraction, “It’s the best time of the year.“.

And...” If you love the country, respect it’s needs and it’s beauty.” WRONG possessive adjectives don’t take the apostrophe. It should have read, “If you love the country, respect its needs and its beauty.” But I bet if you open practically any webpage with lengthy text, you will find the apostrophe and “its” misused. Not to mention one or two in (ahem) Hubpages! I’ve got it right for...nearly two years now! And also the “It has” takes the apostrophe, too, as in “He has his car; it’s been fixed.”

Okay, where wuz we...We know the apostrophe takes on the burden of indicating the possessive of a singular noun. “The writer’s article.” “The CEO of Hubpage’s inflated salary.”

But note this...important!!! When the possessor is plural, but the name does NOT end in an “s,” the apostrophe also precedes the indicative, final “s.” “The women’s remarkable work.” “The men’s difficult jobs.”

But with a regular plural noun (boys, infants, girls, etc., ) the apostrophe gracefully hangs-back and follows the “s” “The boys’ teachers,” “The infants’ parents.” and so on.

Clear as mud? Right, onward and downwards.

The apostrophe can indicate time or quantity, “In one year’s time.” (Sing.)

Two months’ notice.” (Plu.).

“Nasty little imp, isn’t it?” (Is it not?).

Yes, it can revert to its old usage of indicating missing letters. Isn’t, Aren’t, “I will, or I won’t.” “I might or I mightn’t.”

“She’d’ve eaten more chips if she wasn’t so bloomin’ fat!” (would have)

For effective or poetic license, and to imitate real dialogue. “I s’pose this one’s on me!”

“I might have killed her, per’aps.” Note there can be some ambiguity here. Some might have written, “P’raps,” for example. This would also indicate a common mispronunciation of the word as well as missing letter(s).

Incidentally, an apostrophe is greatly needed in some regional English, such as some found in the Antipodes, such as “This ’avo’" "She's a beaut' mate" (This afternoon and She's a beauty - Australian). And, indeed, can cover quite large gaps. “Jo’berg,” Johannesburg. “’Frisco,” or “San Fran’” For the gay capital of the free world.

Our humble apostrophe is a busy li'lle bee, isn’t it?

Contractions which have become part of the lingua franca as a shortened version don’t usually require an apostrophe to indicate missing letters. Hence, “Flu, Phone, Bus, Photo, Tele, (Or telly), Fridge, Marge, etc., etc., look over-adorned when wearing an apostrophe. You might still see one on words like ’burger, or not. Some might think you were about to tuck into an honest citizen, rather than a product from McDonald’s. (The company argues that they use an apostrophe because they actually mean McDonald’s Corporation.) So the apostrophe is still wrongly placed...I guess when you have 20 billion ‘burgers sold, or whatever the figure is today, you can dispose of the apostrophe as you please!

Remember: You will be forgiven most glitches with the apostrophe, EXCEPT confusing the missing letter in “It’s - It is; It has, with the possessive “Its,” NO apostrophe. This won’t do, it’s absolutely unforgivable!

In "Eats Shoots and Leaves," by Lynne Truss, the text that helps me with punctuation articles, (but is so full of information it can be confusing) the author wryly smiles at some of the obvious mistakes she sees, or have been pointed out to her, in the everyday world; often glitches by people and departments that really should have known better or hired more educated advisers.

Such as the often ignored fact that the apostrophe is now NOT required to be inserted in the plural of abbreviations. MP's is MPs in 2010. The 1990's is now merely 1990s, and so on...why? Who knows, laziness probably. (Cousins in the USA, y'all 'r' still doin' things th'old way!). Blimey! I bet they use a plenitude of apostrophes ovah thar!

Leave it to the Brits! Evidently, for years, a certain Keith Waterhouse published a column in several newspapers called "Association for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe," in which appeared appalling examples of apostrophetic accidents.

Such as the groin-grabbing, "Prudential - were here to help you." (but no longer, apparently). Of course, it should have read, "Prudential - we're here to help you."

Those generally admirable folk, the Greengrocer’s (ahem ?), misuse the apostrophe so often in advertising their wares, they have their very own apostrophe, the “Greengrocer’s Apostrophe.” (hope you picked the first one as being wrong)


Orange’s Etc.

Don’t forget to point these glitches out to your local greengrocer when he’s busy in the market this week and then pick the soggy tomato from your face! (Tommaaato’s!!)

Of course, some missing or inadvertently added apostrophes can be extremely funny, such as “Dicks in tray” (nice to have them served properly) Probably should have a hyphen, too, “Dick’s in-tray”

Or “New members welcome drink” Must have been AA!

One of the ugliest non-use of the apostrophe that shouldn’t have been there anyway, is when it is wrongly replaced by a comma. This might be known as the Grocer’s Comma.




Another trend in “text speak” today is to leave all hope of apostrophes or other punctuation marks out all together, creating a kind of robot-speak.

“Hubber output.”

“Greengrocer daily offer.”

“Im Klato”

“Your an idiot” (you’re)

“Client toilet”

And perhaps all this spells the death of punctuation.

You have to be careful about how and whom you criticise, too.

One such academic was left blushing and with egg on his face when, while on holiday, he reprimanded a grocer for writing “Carrott’s” on his stall. “It’s misspelled and wrongly punctuated, “he harrumphed. The grocer extended his hand, “Bill Carrott,” he smiled, “Now, just what’s wrong wit’ sign?”

Truss answers one problem at length with the apostrophe which I am going to prune harshly.

Modern names ending in “s,” or foreign names with unpronounceable “s” endings, (including biblical names), does add a final “s” after an apostrophe in the possessive.

“Robert Burns’s poetry.”

“Lynne Truss’s excellent books on punctuation.”

But where the “s” - apostrophe has been traditionally used - as in ancient names - the usage does not change.

“Archimedes’ screw”

“Achilles’ heel.”

The exception in modern usage (please forgive me!) is where the ending has an “iz” sound.

“Bridges’ score”

“Moses’ tablets.”

And Christ is always excepted,

“Jesus’ disciples.”

Doubtlessly we need to change this crap to add some cohesion.

Now, if you have enjoyed this small peep at the apostrophe and its uses, but you want to explore further, you could do a lot worse than buy the little book herein mentioned. You will find that the apostrophe has got itself mired in a labyrinth of terminology and error beyond the scope of this hub, which I am sure will be little read anyway!

Happy apostrophyzing!





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