Butchering grammar 2: a lot of apostrophe abuse

While I wanted to spend some time telling you how “alot” is not a word and was never meant to be a word, I have encountered a lot (!) of a certain kind of error that particularly bugs me–a lot–and I will have to forego telling you why “alot” is a horror and its use should be punishable by flogging.

I also wanted to talk about the abused pronoun. You know, when someone means well but says something shocking like, “That child finds themself in a lot of trouble…” It hurt just now to write that well-intended but shockingly illiterate-sounding sentence. But I digress. We’ll address that one later. A lot.

What I am bugged about is that poor, abused apostrophe. Goodness, have you noticed how the apostrophe has been misplaced, misused, forgotten, or over-used lately? I give you a few examples to ponder.

  • A sign near my house advertised puppy’s for sale. Hold on. Maybe the owner genuinely meant to say “My puppy’s for sale,” meaning his ONE puppy has got to go. But somehow I doubt it.
  • Just like the hand-painted sign above, I am even more disappointed with professionally-made signs that refer to items in the plural but use an apostrophe to make them plural: “All sandal’s on sale” or “Open Sunday’s.” When did adding apostrophe-s make something plural? I deal with this in my own students’ writing every year, and it makes me slightly crazy. That poor apostrophe–I feel a bit protective of him. He does not need to be used in this way! Give him a break!
  • The next one happens quite frequently in a group of friends or small group Bible studies. The email gets passed around: “Our study is at the Smith’s house.” In other words, the house of the Smiths. Pay attention to this one: if it is the house of the Smiths (plural, right?), then it should be at the Smiths’ house. See the difference?
  • One more misuse, and this should probably be an entire blog subject itself. The word “its” can either be used correctly or can suffer from misplaced apostrophe. When is that word to be used? “Its” means “belonging to it,” as in “the dog had its puppy’s.” (Just kidding–you know that rule already. Puppies.) “It’s” means “it is.” That little apostrophe takes the place of the “i” in “is.” The only thing to remember is the difference between “belonging to it” and “it is.” You can do that, right?

A lot.



Filed under Grammar

2 responses to “Butchering grammar 2: a lot of apostrophe abuse

  1. Nancy Frey

    I’m thoroughly enjoying your “Butchering Grammar” columns. I feel exactly the same way as you, but I do not have even half the rhetorical skills that you do. Thank you!

  2. Mike White

    This blog is great. I love talking about grammar! It’s one of my favorite subjects—a lot! Sometimes I learn something new.

    Here is my gripe in the form of a question: how should one answer the phone when addressed? At times, I’ve caught myself incorrectly saying “It’s me.” Here are other answers that make me cringe:
    – It is she
    – This is she

    I’m sure you know of other examples. Bless you for addressing this!

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