A is for Apostrophes

greedy3-330I was watching this news show on ABC-TV (US) featuring a bunch of talking heads. A feature has a couple Picks of the Week from each participant, a noteworthy story. That week included Democratic strategist James Carville; the overlay showed JAME’S PICK.

I wanted to scream. The one thing you NEVER do with an apostrophe is break up someone’s name ending in S just before that letter. One doesn’t visit the JONE’S house, one visits the JONES’ house, or the JONES’S house, depending on your school of thought on this. If you’re unclear, you visit the JONES family and avoid the apostrophe altogether.

I’m convinced that it is the use of the apostrophe that creates the bulk of spelling errors in the United States. There are road signs with ONION’S FOR SALE, when the plural doesn’t need an apostrophe at all.

Here’s an interesting bit from WikiHow:

Know how to use apostrophes for acronyms and years. Say you use an acronym for a noun, like CD. To make CD plural, use “CDs,” not CD’s.” The same logic goes for years — instead of writing “Spandex was popular in the 1980’s,” use “1980s.”

I totally agree, but my spellcheck doesn’t like CDs or 1980s, it prefers CD’s and 1980’s! Oy.

Moreover, I DO use the apostrophe when it would be otherwise confusing, such as with plural letters: “I got 4 A’s and two B’s on my report card.” Sans apostrophe, A’s looks like As.

A lot of confusion comes from the recognition of a possessive. There are lots of websites that explain this better than I, such as The Oatmeal and Scribendi.

THE most common error, of course, involves it’s and its, and it’s somewhat understandable. Possessive nouns take an apostrophe: THE GOAT’S FUR; possessive pronouns do not: ITS FUR. The word IT’S is a contraction, meaning IT IS. I see this particular error SO often, even in newspapers and magazines, that I despair of it ever being truly understood.

And I know why, per Henry Hitchings, though disputed by HistoriAnn:

[H]ere’s the rub: say any of these names aloud and you’ll be struck by the fact that the apostrophe works on the eye rather than the ear. Simply put, we don’t hear apostrophes, and this is a significant factor accounting for the inconsistency with which they are used.

You grammar buffs, and I count myself in your number: IS it a lost cause?

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