apostrophes vs : Common Errors in English

About apostrophes vs

First let’s all join in a hearty curse of the grammarians who insertedthe wretched apostrophe into possessives in the first place. It was alla mistake. Our ancestors used to write “Johns hat” meaning “the hat ofJohn” without the slightest ambiguity. However, some time in theRenaissance certain scholars decided that the simple “s” of possessionmust have been formed out of a contraction of the more “proper” “Johnhis hat.” Since in English we mark contractions with an apostrophe, theydid so, and we were stuck with the stupid “John’s hat.” Their error canbe a handy reminder though: if you’re not sure whether a noun ending in“s” should be followed by an apostrophe, ask yourself whether you couldplausibly substitute “his” or “her” for the S.The exception to this pattern involves personal pronouns indicating possessionlike “his,” “hers,” and “its.” For more on this point, see “its/it’s.”Get this straight once and for all: when the S is added to a wordsimply to make it a plural, no apostrophe is used (except in expressionswhere letters or numerals are treated like words, like “mind your P’sand Q’s” and “learn your ABC’s”).Apostrophes are also used to indicate omitted letters in realcontractions: “do not” becomes “don’t.”Why can’t we all agree to do away with the wretched apostrophe? Because its two uses—contraction and possession—have people so thoroughly confused that they are always putting in apostrophes where they don’t belong, in simple plurals (“cucumber’s for sale”) and family names when they are referred to collectively (“the Smith’s”). The practice of putting improper apostrophes in family names on signs in front yards is an endless source of confusion. “The Brown’s” is just plain wrong. (If you wanted to suggest “the residence of the Browns” you would have to write “Browns’,” with the apostrophe after the S, which is there to indicate a plural number, not as an indication of possession.) If you simply want to indicate that a family named Brown lives here, the sign out front should read simply “The Browns.” When a name ends in an S you need to add an ES to make it plural: “the Adamses.”No apostrophes for simple plural names or names ending in S, OK? I get irritated when people address me as “Mr. Brian’s.” What about when plural names are used to indicate possession? “The Browns’ cat” is standard (the second S is “understood”), though some prefer “the Browns’s cat.” The pattern is the same with names ending in S: “the Adamses’ cat” or—theoretically—“the Adamses’s cat,” though that would be mighty awkward.Apostrophes are also misplaced in common plural nouns on signs: “Restrooms are for customer’s use only.” Who is this privileged customer to deserve a private bathroom? The sign should read “for customers’ use.”For ordinary nouns, the pattern for adding an apostrophe to express possession is straightforward. For singular nouns, add an apostrophe plus an S: “the duck’s bill.” If the singular noun happens to end in one S or even two, you still just add an apostrophe and an S: “the boss’s desk.”For plural nouns which end in S, however, add only the apostrophe: “the ducks’ bills.” But if a plural noun does not end in S, then you follow the same pattern as for singular nouns by adding an apostrophe and an S: “the children’s menu.”It is not uncommon to see the “S” wrongly apostrophized even in verbs, as in the mistaken “He complain’s a lot.”Unfortunately, some character sets do not include proper curled apostrophes, including basic HTML and ASCII. If you do not turn off the “smart quotes” feature in your word processor, the result will be ugly gibberish in your writing which will make it hard to read.But if you wish to create a true apostrophe in HTML [’] instead of a straight “foot mark” ['], you can write this code: ’.Another problem involving smart quotes arises when you need to begin a word with an apostrophe, as in “the roaring ’20s” or “give ’em a break.” Smart quotes will curl those opening apostrophes the wrong way. There’s more than one way to solve this problem, but here are the easiest ones in Microsoft Word: 1) for Windows users, hold down the CTRL key and hit the apostrophe key twice, 2) for Mac users, hold down the option and shift keys and hit the right square bracket key. If all else fails, you can type a pair of single quotation marks and delete the first one.See also “.”

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