Bad Apostrophe, Good Apostrophe

rogersgeorge on September 28th, 2017

I was going to post this Mallard Fillmore comic just because the comic’s funny and about grammar, but it reminded me of a rule: Don’t use apostrophes for plurals.

But English has two exceptions that you might get away with: plurals of numerals and plurals of abbreviations. You don’t need to write plurals of numerals very often, but when you do, it’s okay, but not necessary, to use an apostrophe, and the tendency these days is to use the apostrophe less and less.

So, for example, referring to a decade,  write “the 1960s.” If you really want to, you can write 1960’s and you’ll get away with it. Buying house numbers? The neighbor of the Beast bought two 6s and an 8. Or is it two 6’s and an 8?

Moving on to abbreviations; the rule is do what is easier to understand. Walking into the vacant space, she said, “Wow! This office has enough room for three AAAs.” Or three old-fashioned AAA’s.

Usually I leave off the apostrophe, and no one has fired me for it yet.


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A Word about Apostrophes

rogersgeorge on May 8th, 2017

Okay, Brooke McEldowney (he of Pibgorn and 9 Chickweed Lane fame) is one of my favorite cartoonists, but I don’t get the punchline in this one. That doesn’t matter, though, because I want to mention the references to apostrophes in the first cell. [I just figured out that it’s not “cell,” but “panel.” At least that’s what I see the cartoonists using, and they ought to know. Several panels make a strip, and a “cel” is a single frame in an animated movie. I guess a “cell” is where you put prisoners or honey.]

Okay, in the first panel, she mentions that apostrophes are to indicate a missing letter in a contraction, and separately to indicate the possessive case. As it happens, the possessive is also derived from a missing letter! We still see it in the German, whence we get a lot of our possessive forms. Originally the possessive was -es, and we took out the e and replaced it with an apostrophe.

My other comment is the pair of apostrophes in one word. You can actually do that, sometimes. For instance the helping verbs in the future perfect, “will have” can both be contracted, mainly in informal spoken English: “I’ll’ve been writing this blog for nine years come January.” If I think of (or see) any other examples, I’ll add them.

Meantime, if you get the joke, explain it to me.

Unconventional Contractions

rogersgeorge on December 19th, 2016

Apostrophes’ main use is for contractions, I think. More on that later.

Apostrophes are also used for quotes inside quotes; in fact, the rule is you alternate single and double quotes as you nest them.

The student told me, “Our teacher said ‘Don’t use the fire escape until I say “GO!”.’.”

Technically you don’t need spaces between the marks when they fall together, but I would have used them because I want you to be able to see clearly what I’m doing. But I lucked out because I need a period for each sentence.

Another use for apostrophes is to show possession. Technically that is also a contraction; the possessive used to be “-es,” and we took out the “e” and replaced it with an apostrophe.

Contractions. Perhaps the most common contraction is n’t for not, but you can use it to shorten verb forms, such as the present perfect: “could’ve” instead of “could have.” You can shorten the future, too: “we’ll” instead of “we will.”

Then sometimes jargon shortens words, and the correct way to show the shortening is with apostrophes, hence this Frazz:


And I ran into this verb-form shortening with an uncommon, but perfectly correct contraction, brothers’ve:

Cul de Sac

Here are two rules:

In formal writing, avoid most contractions. Don’t use them unless they improve the writing.
Nowadays, most of the time, the –n’t contraction is okay to use.

Apostrophe humor

rogersgeorge on February 22nd, 2014

I have mentioned apostrophes now and then, so don’t expect much new today. This comic, by  Jon Kudelka, who might be an Australian, appeared recently, though, and I can’t resist repeating  myself.

How many apostrophic solecisms can you count?

Apostrophes are replacements for letters you leave out of a word. The apostrophe as the sign of the possessive in nouns (not pronouns!) came from the German, where the possessive ending is usually -es. We take out the e.

Rule 1: Plurals don’t get an apostrophe, even if you’re writing grocery store vegetable signs.

Rule 2: For possessives, look at the noun (not pronoun!) that you want to make into a possessive. If it ends in an single s, put an apostrophe on the end and you’re done. If it doesn’t end in s, add apostrophe s.

Rule 3: You don’t need an apostrophe to pluralize an acronym.

Want a couple complications?

Complication 1: If the word you want to pluralize ends in a vowel or laryngeal sound before the s, you do the apostrophe followed by nothing, but you pronounce the missing -es ending. For example, “Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount” is pronounced “Jesuses Sermon etc.”  and my first name, “Rogers,” has the possessive form “Rogers’ ” and you pronounce it “Rogerses.” Both of these, with the -es, are how you spell and pronounce the plural, by the way.

Complication 2: Use apostrophe s for the possessive of acronyms, even if the acronym ends in ss (for example, the Office of Strategic Services is the OSS). This is the only time in English where you can have three of the same letter in a row. “The OSS’s pronouncement” is grammatical. (Okay, onomatopoetic words can have any number of repeated letters. A snake goes “ssssssss,” and a cow goes “moooo.”)

Complication 3: Pronouns have their own possessive forms: my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their. No apostrophe! That’s not really a complication, is it?

A good way to ruin a nice piece of wisdom

rogersgeorge on February 8th, 2014

I don’t usually blog about typographical errors because I tend to assume that they are more a slip of the finger than of the intellect. Just the same, I can think of a couple places where typos are verboten. Your résumé is one. Aphorisms are another.

As a rule, any time you leave a stupid mistake in something you write, it gives the lie to your competence, wisdom, status; whatever your writing is trying to accomplish. (Since I write about mistakes in writing so much, I even proofread my emails and instant messages. People are delighted when they find that I made a goof.)

Here’s a case in point.


A nice piece of wisdom, perhaps, but you wonder who would allow that apostrophe in there. I’ll give the writer the benefit of the doubt and say it was a slip of the finger, but I still say PROOFREAD!