Apostrophes

You use apostrophes primarily to indicate ownership–This is B.’s car–or to indicate a contraction–She won’t mind if we take it for a drive.

You never use an apostrophe to make a word plural. Not even a proper noun. You can go to the Smith’s house–the house owned by the family Smith. You can even go to the Smiths’s house–the house owned by the Smiths. But you cannot go hang out with the Smith’s. No. You cannot. Yes, it’s confusing because you could go hang out at the Smith’s, leaving ‘house’ implied. But unless there’s some object–obvious or implied–you cannot use an apostrophe. Apostrophes cannot make things plural.

Do not, no no no no no, use an apostrophe after a date. It is just 1960s or 1800s or 1490s. A date cannot own something and I cannot think of a way to use a date in a contraction, so just no, don’t do it.

Now, when it comes to pronouns, you don’t need an apostrophe to indicate ownership. This means even “it.” The kitten opened its eyes. (The kitten [it] has eyes; no apostrophe needed on the ‘its’.) It’s so cute. (This “it’s” is a contraction–it is so cute.) So, unless you’re trying to make a contraction, just use ‘its.’

The real question is: Who can make the difference between “affect” and “effect” obvious in a simple way?

23 thoughts on “Apostrophes

  1. Here:
    In most cases, ‘affect’ is a verb, and ‘effect’ is a noun. You can ‘affect’ something; you can have an ‘effect’. People are affected by grief; grief is an effect of tragedy.

    This, of course, gets wonky when you get into other meanings, whereby ‘affect’ is either (noun) a characteristic one intentionally adopts or (verb) to take on such a characteristic; and ‘effect’ can be (verb) to cause or motivate, as to ‘effect changes.’
    The first bit holds, though.

  2. A misplaced apostrophe is the writing equivalent to a barely audible fart.

    Lose/loose is, to me at least, the equivalent of taking a dump on someone’s floor. (note the perfectly placed apostrophe.)

  3. A misplaced apostrophe is the writing equivalent to a barely audible fart.

    I’m sensitive on this issue. To me a misplaced apostrophe is like a knife in the eye. I cannot stand them.

    ::off to call a good masseuse or proctologist::

  4. Well, thankyouverymuch. In case I didn’t have self-esteem issues before, now I have to hate myself for poor apostrification.

  5. ” I cannot think of a way to use a date in a contraction”

    You are so not a historian.

    The ’60s were a fun decade. The ’80s, on the other hand, were an orgy of excess.

    N.B. that there is no such thing as “the 60’s”.

  6. Oh, and perhaps you could also alert people that the past tense of the verb “to lead” is “led”. I don’t know why, but reading that this event lead to that one and then lead to the next one just bothers me.

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  8. This is all well and good, my friend, but could you, perhaps help me out with commas? I never know when the fuck to use or not use a fucking comma. They haunt my dreams, the commas. Sharpened crooked fingers of doom… Beckoning.

  9. How about:

    The effect of opera recordings is to give him a headache, though they don’t affect me at all.

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  11. Well, thank heaven. I was starting to think I was hallucinating (possible), or that the nuns at school were All Wrong (less likely).

    Aunt B, back in the Jurassic, when I was in grammar school, apostrophes were used to indicate the plural in certain instances. I checked with the Handbook of Style section of Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (copyright 1989), in use in my office, and under usage of the apostrophe, it still lists “often forms plurals of letters [ABC’s, p’s and q’s], figures [1960’s and 1970’s] and words referred to as words [She has trouble pronouncing her the’s.]

    It is certainly less common these days to use the apostrophe to indicate plurals, and I’m all in favor of that, generally, because most people fling apostrophes around any time an “s” makes an appearance. But the person who uses the apostrophe to indicate plural in the above manner isn’t necessarily illiterate – he or she just learned to do so long, long ago, as I did.

    N.B.: For folks who aren’t certain, and who own book-style dictionaries, rather than relying only on google or spellcheck, go to the back of the dictionary! It’s filled with yummy punctuation information goodies! How to use apostrophes, brackets, colons, commas, ellipses – it’s an information wonderland! It covers the pesky “question mark inside or outside quotation marks” question! (The dash, the question mark, and the exclamation point fall within the quotation marks when they refer to the quoted matter only; they fall outside when they refer to the whole sentence.)

  12. I don’t think Turabian/Chicago has ever allowed apostrophes to indicate a plural. I dunno about MLA.

  13. It seems like people who wouldn’t normally try to pluralize something with an apostrophe try to do it with abbreviations or acronyms.

    Example: I need to organize my cd’s.

    It makes me want to rip my hair out by the handful.

  14. Shauna, before you rip out all your hair, I refer you to my post above. Those folks aren’t necessarily ignorant; they could just be dinosaurs, like me. “CD’s” would, I think, fall under the “plural letters” category. CDs makes perfect sense to you, but that doesn’t make the folks who write CD’s wrong, either. (See “p’s and q’s,” which have probably graduated to Ps and Qs.)

    Just make ’em wipe off the tar on their feet before they come inside from the tarpits.

  15. What about using an apostrohe after a year that has no other date distinguishing information i.e. 2010′?
    I was taught that adding an apostrophe after the number would indicate that the number represented a year rather than anything else.

    It was the winter of 2010′ and we were buried under 20′ of snow. “or” It was the winter of 0020′ and we were buried under 20′ of snow. “or” It was the year 0020 and we …

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