Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Apostrophe Apocalyse

Call me pedantic, call me anal, tell me you don't care: I don't care.

This is English, for better or worse, the language that we speak. The nation's children are growing more and more illiterate by the year ('chillax, mother', anyone?) and primary school education seems to have failed us all.

Look, there's an epidemic of apostrophe abuse!

My own grammar and grammatical knowledge isn't great (and is growing worse after a year of reading teenagers' mistakes daily), especially for one who teaches English and has taught EFL for too many years, but I'm still a firm believer in the basics. Just the basics.

So abuse me all you want, tell me I'm tearing the blog apart, but I think I'm doing an educational service to bloggers and blog-readers everywhere.

We use an apostrophe to show we have omitted letters in a contraction:

Can't, won't, she'll, I'll, we're, haven't, etc. and above all, teenagers: could've comes from could have and is not could of. Please not that your is the possessive of you and you're is a contraction of you are.

We use apostrophes to denote the possessive: Jo's fussiness, a blogger's worst nightmare.
It confuses people when we get into plurals: The bloggers' worst nightmare, seven dogs' dinners. - you put an apostrophe-s after the 's' - but we leave off the 's' to stop it looking silly (dogs's).

In English, we make plurals by adding an 's' to a noun - this does not take an apostrophe - one dog, two dogs.
We also make a verb third person by adding an 's' or 'es': I see, he sees/I go he goes - this doesn't take one either, no matter how right it seems to look - there is no such word as see's unless you're referring to this sort of see and something that belongs to it: see –noun Ecclesiastical. The seat, center of authority, office, or jurisdiction of a bishop.

If you're still unsure about what to do with Joneses or any of the above, here's a clear explanation.

And my last word to my students is: when in doubt, leave them out - don't throw them in willy-nilly every time you see an 's'. And don't put them in really ambiguously and faintly, so it could be an apostrophe or just a teeny dash! You're fooling no one!

I'm well aware that reading my hastily lashed out typo ridden waffle may grate on your smooth reading as much as the apostrophe problem bothers me, so feel free to buy me Typershark for Christmas and I promise to practise!


  1. Well, thanks! Being foreign and all I'm now terrified of commenting here.

    Or not.

    I AM happy to see that I haven't been wrong. In 1994 a coffee shop opened next to my work. I growled everytime I passed the place until I came up with an, to me, amusing new question: "Who's Milk?"

    The shop is called Wayne's Coffee.

  2. Fucking hell! What happened to my lovely blue apostrohe!?

    Is Fatmammycat on a mad renegade bender?

    I'll leave it here for entertainment value, but it's scary!

  3. I'm not going to tear you apart Jo, just maybe suggest that, while I'm with you on the sadness of people not knowing how to use them any more, maybe pointing it out here will discourage some of the more punctuation challenged among us from commenting and posting, so maybe it's not worth it.

    After all, here it's what you say not how you say it that matters...

  4. EGO congruo plene. Nos es totus exsisto licitus ut sermo in lingua nos amo. Is est usque alius intellego quis nos vilis.

    Selv om vi har hen til bare indtale i sig sprog , vi er gør sig besværlig nemlig andre hen til have a word with os.

    δικός μας Διαδίκτυο θα πάντοτε να είμαι διεθνήs , ούτως έναs απόστροφος δεν θα έπρεπε να να είμαι the μόνο αιτία αποφεύγω διάβασμα έναs ταχυδρομώ.

  5. I know my written english is crap at the best of times so I'm pretty sure I've made many a faux pas here already.

    Jo, if there is ever something really obvious that I get wrong please feel free to email and let me know. I have been known to spell words incorrectly for years until someone pointed it out.

    Ironically, I achieved quite a high mark in honours English for my leaving ;)

  6. As I was reprimanded by Shan when I first started writing here for my punctuation.
    This was after a comment made by another blogger, naming no name ( do I or don't I)'s. I know my written English is bad but so was my typing when I started using a computer. I really don't want to be put off now.

  7. Ah Jo do you not think this post is a bit harsh for a blog? I thought blogs were supposed to be fun, not there to ridicule people who put effort into writing something for everyone to read? The funny part of a blog can also be trying to understand what people have written!

  8. Ah Jays's I dont kno'w what the hell' this is all ab'out. I just don't get it!!!

    Yep I did shit'e at engerlish in school, but Ails the only reason I had to say anything was mainly to do with n o spaces between words. Trust me I ain't no writer as I have commonly said to folk.

  9. Sorry all, I didn't mean to target forninepounders or put anyone off. It just seems like apostrophes are something the majority of people can't do. If I thought it was one or two people instead of the whole country I never would have posted it.

    My work is putting little red lines under the same mistakes repeated by the same people all day,I'm trained to have them jump out at me - so they do, every time. I know the students I correct aren't reading here but I wrote this post as a vent at them, cerainly not to discourage anyone.

  10. Thought that may have been it, Jo. I suppose a lot of folk dont know that this is the job you work at.

    Very well put!

  11. Sorry Jo. I meant my post to be a teaser for you to jump at, kindly correcting me with the possessive 's form. But as I just read back what I wrote I realise it isn't obvious at all that I was trying to joke. I blame work ;-)

  12. No no, Dolly, I was going to say, I wasn't sure English wasn't your first language for a while!

    No more jumping here :)

  13. Jo - I really love linguistics and have no problem with your post and its sentiment. I know the apostrophe rules - although for years I spelt it 'apostophe', but I still make mistakes with it all the time when not concentrating.

    So it's all about grammar-gate. That's gas.

    Atreus - I don't understand but will soon.

  14. This is as far as I got with online translators:

    "our own Internet I am always [diethni]s, [oytos] [ena]s apostrophe should be the only cause I avoid reading [ena]s I post."


    "I coincide completely. We are whole to emerge permitted when discussion upon language we to love. This is all the way other to understand anyone we cheap"