Do you or a loved one suffer from apostrophe abuse?
Do you throw in apostrophes at random in your writing or on your business sign or website, without a thought as to the consequences?
You may need an intervention. This is it.
Misplaced apostrophes drive people like us absolutely crazy. They make the perpetrator look careless and uneducated.
Let’s get this straight. Apostrophes often indicate possession and NEVER indicate the plural. So if you want to say, for example, that the movie “The Conqueror” — in which John Wayne plays Genghis Khan — was Wayne’s biggest career mistake, you use an apostrophe after the Duke’s name. (See what I did there?) If you’re talking about his family reunion, you want to say that many Waynes were there — no apostrophe.
When the word is designed to indicate more than one, no apostrophe is needed.
We’ve seen signs that read “Open on Sunday’s,” “Bargain’s galore!” and “Try our tasty burrito’s!” We’ve also seen apostrophe violations on professionals’ websites and in news releases written by intelligent people who really should know better. The following mistakes were made by public relation officers who work for government agencies:
“He has been a part of several task forces and committee’s .. “
“After many concerns today regarding suspicious phone calls being made to citizen’s, claiming to be (government agency here)”
As an aficionado of Guinness beer, I find it particularly painful that Guinness brands all of its merchandise with “St. James’s Street Gate Dublin.” Ouch! (It should be St. James’ Gate, by the way, with the apostrophe after the “s” of the name.) Likewise, when you want to indicate a plural possessive, the apostrophe goes after the s indicating plural, such as “All of the Waynes’ pictures are in this scrapbook.”
Let’s talk about the most common gateway words to apostrophe abuse: its and it’s.
Its is possessive — an exception to the rule that you use an apostrophe when you mean something belongs to someone. In this case, leave it out.
- The car was missing its left headlight.
- The multi-colored house was beautiful in the eyes of its owner.
- The bill was criticized for its lack of a penalty clause.
The only time you should use it’s is when you mean “it is.”
- It’s a gorgeous day today.
- It’s a difficult topic
- Don’t touch that casserole dish — it’s hot!
(I guess there is one other exception to the “use an apostrophe to show possessive” rule. Never say your’s. Always yours. We actually haven’t seen this one, but I wouldn’t put it past some people. It could happen.)
So when you go to write its or it’s, just ask yourself what you’re trying to say: that something belongs to something or someone else or it is. With any word you’re about to toss an apostrophe onto, ask yourself if you want the word to indicate possession or more than one.
We have on our refrigerator a clipping of a news story about a self-proclaimed “grammar vigilante” in Bristol, England. The man scours the town by night for misplaced apostrophes in signs and covers them with stickers. According to the story, he’s been doing this for years. He defends what others may call vandalism by saying, “It is more of a crime to have the apostrophes wrong in the first place.”
That guy is my hero. Someday I may join him in his cause.