We Need to Talk About Grammar is a weekly feature in which I complain about grammatical mistakes I encounter all too often. Feel free to commiserate below, and check out the archives here!
In these glorious days of letting just anyone have access to a computer and spew whatever bullshit they want into the blogosphere (see: me), the apostrophe has become perhaps the most maligned, misused, and misunderstood punctuation mark.
At least once a day, and quite often much more than once a day, I run into misused apostrophes. Chances are that you do, too. Here are the many ways you can misuse an apostrophe (I was going to order them from most to least rage-inducing, but they all make me want to pull my hair out, so):
1. Adding an apostrophe to a plural noun
Simple plurals never, ever, EVER take an apostrophe. Not regular nouns (apples, oranges), not proper nouns (Mondays, Fridays), not names (Joneses, Thompsons). Neither do numbers or letters:
I wish I had been born in the 1970s.
Janie got 3 As and 3 Bs on her report card this quarter.
Don’t do it. Just don’t.
2. Adding an apostrophe to a third-person-singular verb
Check out the title of this post. It should make you very uncomfortable. (If it doesn’t, I don’t think we can be friends.) The first reason it should make you uncomfortable is discussed in #1. The second reason it should make you uncomfortable is because I wantonly added an apostrophe to “makes,” and, as you and I and anyone with half a brain should know, verbs don’t take apostrophes unless they’re contractions (see what I did there?). All too often, I see apostrophes added to verb forms that end in s (that is, third person singular forms) and it drives me up a wall. I can understand the impulse, I guess, thinking that the s needs the apostrophe, but it doesn’t. I promise.
A good way to remember this is to ask yourself if the verb you’re adding the apostrophe to is a contraction (combination of two words). If it isn’t, don’t add the apostrophe.
3. Adding an apostrophe to a possessive pronoun
Okay, okay, this one is legitimately confusing because possessive nouns (both regular and proper) always take an apostrophe before the s (the butcher’s knife, a Bachelor’s degree, Mary’s sweater). But possessive pronouns don’t.
The most common mistake I see is using it’s instead of its. (Its is the correct form of the possessive pronoun; it’s is a contraction meaning it is.) But the use of her’s and their’s is becoming troublingly common, and it makes me sad.
4. Misplacing apostrophes in plural possessive nouns
You know, I think this one really deserves its own post. Check back next week for a post dedicated entirely to plural possessive nouns!
5. Forgetting apostrophes
This doesn’t bother me quite as much as the heedless insertion of apostrophes where they don’t belong, because I will generally give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume it was just a typo. Especially in contractions, because even though I know cant and wont are actual words that don’t mean the same as can’t and won’t, 99% of the time the person means the latter and I realize that. Chalking it up to laziness or an honest mistake makes me less ragey. (Plus, I know spellcheck doesn’t always catch them.)
What are your apostrophe-related pet peeves? Come on, let it all out.