October 01, 2006

Punctuation Lesson: the Apostrophe

OK, people, listen up.

People!

I am fed up with the worsening frequency of incorrect usage of apostrophes to indicate pluralization.

Stop it right now!

Stop it!

This sentence is very wrong:

What shall I do with this sack of cat's?

If I see such pluralization travesty again, I will scream.

The only time an apostrophe indicates plural is when it refers to a letter or word itself.

Example:

There are two u's in vacuum.

If you left out the apostrophe there, it would be a very confusing sentence.

Such a rare instance is the only time an apostrophe is used to pluralize. Even plural words like TVs, CDs, Baby-Ts, etc., do not get apostrophes.

Again, an apostrophe does not signify plural. Quit using it that way. I am entirely sick of this unacceptable mistake and if you continue to err you will be severely punished.

An apostrophe signifies possession or omission.

On the possession side, an apostrophe is used to indicate ownership: John's testicle, the cat's boil, the baboons' butts, the Joneses' desires, Fish's Eddy, cacti's phallicity, chess's complexity, Congress's mistakes, Dennis's slingshot, Jesus' virginity.

Yes, there are funky exceptions in there, but no usage of the apostrophe to indicate pluralization.

A singular word that doesn't end in an s gets a normal 's to show its ownership (to show that it's the owner).

John's testicle
the cat's boil

A plural word just gets an apostrophe without another s.

the baboons' butts
the Joneses' desires

That is, unless it is an irregular plural word that doesn't end in s and in that case it does get the apostrophe and an s.

Fish's Eddy
cacti's phallicity

If a non-plural word ends in an s, it gets the whole apostrophe and s added on.

chess's complexity
Congress's mistakes
Dennis's slingshot

The exception to that last rule is historical names, which for some reason do not get the extra s.

Jesus' virginity

Perhaps adding the extra s seemed vaguely blasphemous and therefore was stricken.

The biggest exception to the possessives rule is the one that seems to trip up everyone most often:

Possessive pronouns do not get an apostrophe.

These include: her, hers, his, their, theirs, your, yours, and its.

The only personal possessive pronoun with an apostrophe is one's.

Indefinite pronouns such as anyone's do get an apostrophe.

The worst culprit here is its. Its is a personal possessive pronoun and does not get an apostrophe.

It's means something else.

In the case of it's, the apostrophe signifies omitted letters. It's is a contraction of it is or it has, with the apostrophe sitting there as a placeholder for the truncation. This has absolutely nothing to do with possessives -- it is a different usage entirely and should not be confused.

Its works the same way as his.

It's (it is) works the same way as she'll (she will).

Other common usages of the apostrophe indicating omission are truncated dates ('06), dropped endings to words (hangin'), and weird absences for poetic rhythm (o'er).

Now that I've explained all this, no more apostrophes in pure plurals, yes?

If you do not shape up, I will lecture you until it hurts.

It's my duty.

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