- Category: Megan's Grammar Garden
- Published on Sunday, 29 January 2012 20:55
- Written by Megan
- Hits: 8535
Megan’s Grammar Garden: Apostrophes’ Apostrophes
We see them everywhere, used willy-nilly and carefully, sparingly, often forgotten: apostrophes. What do they do? Why do they matter? And why does it drive me so crazy when an apostrophe is used incorrectly?
Apostrophes serve two purposes: to contract words, and to show possession. Contrary to popular belief (as suggested by social media such as Facebook, and even some products distributed nationally, such as Johnson & Johnson’s baby bubble bath & wash), apostrophes do not show pluralization.
What about the difference between “Aunts we’re going to the grocery store” and “Aunts were going to the grocery store”? The difference is one little mark: an apostrophe. And what a huge difference it makes.
Possession. Without getting into too much detail, possession is also known as the genitive case. The short history lesson is that the apostrophe emerged from this case, which had rules about adding “-s” or “-es” to the end of a word to show who or what owned the object. Possession shows to whom something belongs: the dog’s ball, or the queen’s throne. Plural possession places the apostrophe after the pluralization, so the ball that belongs to multiple dogs becomes the dogs’ ball (which I find odd, as I don’t think of dogs as ones to share their belongings very well).
Despite what Facebook posts might have you believe, apostrophe’s (<---- see that? I did that on purpose) do not mark pluralization. What belongs to the apostrophes in that sentence? Do the apostrophes own anything there? No, they don’t. They simply exist as the subject of a secondary clause. It’s a comment on the use of the punctuation mark. Nothing more, and nothing less. Using an apostrophe to mark pluralization just confuses the reader, and leaves the reader looking for ownership when none is needed or warranted.
Watch out for those stray apostrophes in your own writing. Spend a week specifically looking for stray possessive apostrophes in everything you read, from books and magazines to blogs and Facebook posts and tweets. You’ll find them everywhere. Next, get rid of them in your own writing, and say what you mean.
Hold on for part two, when we’ll return to apostrophes and their use in contracted words.