Avoiding Apostrophe Catastrophe

G’Day, friends.  Suze here.  Today’s topic is serious and, well, I hope you can handle it.  I’m talking about … punctuation.

Please don’t cringe in horror and run away screaming.  Many writers think of grammar and punctuation as something scary, mysterious, or incomprehensible.  I’m here, at the request of our Casey Wyatt, to let you know that it’s not.  You really don’t need to be able to define gerunds, or the subjunctive, or even the pluperfect, although those words are fun to say.  If you are already pretty good at this stuff, please stick around through to the end, because there might just be a reward!

Honestly, there are not that many grammar or punctuation rules a writer needs to follow.  This isn’t eighth grade, and no diagramming of sentences on a chalkboard in front of the whole class is required.  Most books have plenty of grammar “mistakes,” but guess what?  Good writing doesn’t have to be grammatically perfect.  It’s usually better when it isn’t, so it doesn’t sound stilted and formal.  Voice doesn’t really come through if your novel reads like a dissertation.

Let’s start with the apostrophe. You know this little guy. Here he is:   (Waving madly.  Say hi!) This poor thing gets used and abused a lot. But he should really only be making an appearance in a few situations.

to take the place of letters removed in a contraction: don’t (do not), can’t (can not)  Or, if you’re writing Highland romance: Ye’ll be pressin’ that kilt, Connor McConnorhaughtlocheniantyre, before ye’ll be leavin’ my house.

to show possession:

  • If the noun showing possession is singular, use ‘s — Fiona’s snowy white arms.  Connor’s rippling abdominals.  This is true even if the singular noun ends in s — Hans’s luxurious blond hair.
  • If the noun showing possession is plural, place the apostrophe at the end — the Highland clans’ war.  The Joneses’ mailbox.

special rules regarding the words its and it’s:

  • Use it’s ONLY in place of the words it is or it has — It’s been great knowing you Connor, but I must say good-bye. 
  • Use its to show possession: The cave bear was fiercely protective of its lair.

related to the above:

  • Never, ever, ever use an apostrophe if a pronoun is already possessive: its, hers, his, theirs, ours, yours, etc. (not it’s, her’s, his’s, their’s …)

There are other rules, but these are the basics. If you have any questions, check out this site, which explains virtually every situation clearly: http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/apostro.asp.  You can also contact me, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

Yes, I've been approached to play Connor McWhat'shisname in the movie version of Suze's highland romance!

Yes, I am a big nerdette who actually sort of enjoys this stuff.  Hope this was helpful to you all.  Next step: commas.  But don’t worry.  That won’t be for a few weeks! 

Now, for those of you who stuck with me through the lecture, here’s your treat … a gratuitous hunk!  Have a great day, everyone.

Do you have any pesky punctuation questions you want answered today?  If not, tell me about one of your high school English teachers. 


12 thoughts on “Avoiding Apostrophe Catastrophe”

  1. This was great, Suze! I happen to LOVE grammar. I know, I know, I’m a grammar geek and proud of it. I once took a course from the Grammar Divas and learned so much. We can never have enough review to remember all of the rules we learned (or didn’t learn) in high school. As writers, getting the punctuation right might be the difference between getting published or not. Nothing irritates editors more than a writer who can’t write. It’s well worth taking some workshops or reading books like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I also like the updated version, Spunk and Bite by Arthur Plotnik, which showcases ways in which grammar and style have evolved. Thanks for the tips! Can’t wait for the comma lesson!

  2. Ok – I’m not sure what this says about me as a person, but I suspect it isn’t…well, normal. I read Eats, Shoots and Leaves just for fun. It’s hysterical! And, sorry, Grammar is important! A poorly placed comma can change the meaning of the sentence…I’m sure you’ll cover that next time! Thanks!

  3. Hi, Suze. This was a fun lesson – if only all of our teachers gave us such great examples and rewards! I don’t recall any of my high school English teachers being stuck on grammar, but remind me to tell you the joke he played when we learned Greek mythology sometime. I did have a college English teacher that was a grammar nut! He actually critiqued the US Constitution. And boy, did he love his red pen. Thanks for sharing and I’m looking forward to the comma lesson.

    1. Grammar, punctuation and spelling didn’t start to become standardized in English until the 19th century, so I’ll bet your college prof had a field day! Really? You’re looking forward to my comma lesson? Shucks! I’ll have to get busy putting that together. 🙂

    1. I will always be here for you, my darling, even if you don’t remember the rules! I had no idea people were this passionate about the comma. Truly.

    1. Thanks, Laura. I always feel a sort of righteous indignation on behalf of the apostrophe when I see signs like this in stores: Sale on Ladie’s Sock’s. It’s as though there’s no one to stick up for him.

  4. Embarrass-moi! Did anybody who read this post earlier catch the (gasp!) spelling error? I’ve fixed it, and I don’t plan to own up to it at this point!

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