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.

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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.

A Mistake that Bears Repeating

rogersgeorge on January 1st, 2016

That is, I should repeat mentioning it so you won’t do it! I’m pretty sure nobody memorizes my little grammar lessons, and besides, repetition is the mother of learning, right?

Anyway, in English, we use the objective case for words that are objects of prepositions and direct objects. That means me instead of I, them instead of they. Other languages, that have more cases, can use any of several other cases with prepositions. We say their prepositions take the accusative, or the dative, or the genitive. But nobody uses the nominative with prepositions. Nominative is reserved for the subjects of sentences.

English speakers tend to get confused when their prepositions and  verbs have a compound object. I think this error descends from a common correction in sixth grade English class that I won’t get into right now. So we say, the prize goes to Bill and Bob, or Tom whipped Bill and Bob, which are correct. (Nouns in English don’t show case except for the possessive.) But when we use pronouns (which do show case), lots of folks revert to the nominative, and they say it the way the third cell in this comic says it. I’m pretty sure Scott Meyer knows the correct way to use a compound direct object, but he drew his character as someone who doesn’t. Thank you, Scott, for giving me a good example of what not to say!

Basic Instructions

I don’t think it’s correct for a kid to whip his parents, but if Dad is describing it, he should say, “his mother and me.”

grammar comic

rogersgeorge on November 30th, 2013

I like comics about our language. here’s another. Can you tell his two mistakes?



I like to give credit whenever I post someone else’s work; see the info in the upper left corner.

Now down to business. Did you catch the solecisms? Obviously the joke wouldn’t be as good, but to stay with the possessive, he should have said “myPod.” And since he started with the singular, the last one should also have been singular; his, her, its-Pod.

I’m such a curmudgeon…

Case part three

rogersgeorge on November 28th, 2011

Nominative case—subject of a sentence and predicate nominatives

Objective case—Direct object and other things

That leaves possessive. Not very many people have trouble with this one, except for possessive pronouns and plurals. We’ll get to those in a moment.

Did you ever wonder where the apostrophe came from? English is a Germanic language, and the possessive form in German ends in -es. You can see this form in Old English. As time passed, we dropped the e and replaced it with an apostrophe, same as with contractions. So our possessive nouns are really contractions.

Here’s the rule for making correct possessive nouns:

  1. Look at the word you want to make possessive, plural or not.
  2. Does it end in “s”? Then add an apostrophe and you’re done. For example, my first name is Rogers. This blog is mine, so you could say that The Writing Rag is Rogers’ blog. If you pronounce it “Rogerses,” you are correct.
  3. No “s” at the end? Then add apostrophe-s and you’re done. My evil twin is Roger. He does not own this blog, so this is not Roger’s blog. You would pronounce this “Rogers.”

Why couldn’t you add apostrophe-s to Rogers? You could, but then you have a problem with words like waitress. Three of the same letter in a row is forbidden in English. (Can you think of the exception to this rule?)

On to the pronouns. Here’s the rule: Memorize them! His hers its. Not an apostrophe in sight. They are their own form. They are not nouns—don’t do the apostrophe! Harrumpf!