Monday, March 5, 2018

Plurals, Possessives, and the Almighty Apostrophe {My Red Pen}


I am a self-confessed compulsive editor. I simply cannot help it. I do try to keep my mouth shut and only offer my suggested edits, corrections, and re-writes if/when asked.


Okay, so I don’t always succeed at that keeping-my-mouth-shut thing.

Communication on mobile devices has spread so rapidly that many things heretofore considered improper usage are now considered acceptable.


However, at least for now, there ARE some “rules” still in place.

(And, by the way, I’m the first to say I do not follow all the guidelines, especially those for formal writing--in my blog, for example. Sometimes formal writing can seem stilted and off-putting. So, you would absolutely be able to use YOUR red pen on much of my writing, I’m sure.)


You can find many references to correct usage on the internet. But, off the top of my head, here are a few of my thoughts on this topic.

A standard joke among English teachers is, “I wish I had a quarter for every apostrophe or incorrectly-used comma I have seen this week…” or today, even…

If I had to choose to be a written/typed “character,” I would choose to be the apostrophe. I say that because it is apparently the most-loved and certainly the most-used of all the characters, save the boring end punctuation marks. From my observation, so much that is written these days seems to be absolutely laced with apostrophes.

Basically, apostrophes should be used either (1) to show possession or (2) to represent a missing letter in a contraction. They are not to be used simply to indicate a plural (more than one).

It gets tricky when you have a plural and you want to also show possession:

Correct: “We are going over to the Fords’ house tonight.”

(“Fords” is plural, describing the Ford family, and the apostrophe is added after the plural “s” to show possession; the house belongs to the Fords.)

Also correct: “We are going over the Fords’ tonight.”

(“House” is implied, so this is implied possession.)

Not correct: “We are going over to the Ford’s tonight.”

Not correct: “We are going over to the Fords tonight.”

Correct: “We are going to invite the Fords over for dinner.”

A common incorrect usage is when a word that is intended as a plural is spelled with an apostrophe, such as “story’s” instead of “stories.” So, it is correct to say, “the story’s beginning” (meaning the beginning that belongs to the story), and it is correct to say, “I love reading your stories,” but it is not correct to say, “I love reading your story’s.”

A possessive pronoun already shows possession, by definition. Possessive pronouns are words like his, hers, yours, ours, theirs, its. The pronoun “its” already shows possession.


Following is my biggest pet peeve. It is without a doubt the usage error that I see the most often. And, strangely, the rule for correct usage on this one is the easiest to remember, because, unlike most “rules” of the English language, this one is set in concrete:

The only time the word “its” should contain an apostrophe is when used as a contraction of “it is.”

Hard and fast rule. Easy to remember.

So, one way to check yourself on this one: When you have finished your writing, do a search for it’s. Every time it’s comes up, it should be as a contraction for “it is.”

Repeating my disclaimer: My writing is not error-free; in fact, it is sometimes intentionally casual. Okay, maybe it is usually intentionally casual.

But I just see so much incorrect use of the language that sometimes I can relate to this:


(Note: Obviously these images were all obtained from the internet, and they are clearly labeled with the original source. However, since my blog is in no way a commercial enterprise, I am thinking I am not infringing.)

#EnglishUsage #EnglishTeacherForever #CompulsiveEditor #CannotReadWithoutEditing #MyRedPen

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