The Misuse of the Apostrophe

I'm not one of those writers who considers herself a grammar geek, though there are plenty of you out there, I know.  I'm more of an intuitive type when it comes to grammar.  But there are a few things that, when misused, make me crazy.  And I want to discuss one of those things today.

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Portland, albeit cold, and my husband and I went for a walk to look at all the new construction in the neighborhood.  (We live in an inner-city area full of near-hundred-year-old homes but there's a trend to tearing down old houses and putting up one or sometimes two to replace them.)  We noticed the following sign hanging above the front door of a house:

The Gibson's.

I screamed gasped.  When my husband asked me what was wrong, I proceeded to tell him about how the apostrophe was misused on the sign and that just because you are using an "s" at the end of a word, that doesn't mean you need an apostrophe, too.  You do in some cases, but not all cases.

Why was the apostrophe misused on the sign?  Because it was intended as a plural (as in multiple Gibsons living within the home) as opposed to a possessive (the sign did not denote owning anything).  If the sign had said The Gibson's Home, it would have been correct.  (One could perhaps make a case that the home was assumed, but I think precision in all things is important.)

You see this, don't you?  Please tell me you do, because the mis-use of the apostrophe is rampant, people, and it makes me want to do horrible things to the perpetrators.  The misuse of the apostrophe is so rampant, in fact, that it started to make me doubt myself.  So much so that I looked it up.  And found, yes, that I am right.

A simple way to get this right is to stop and think about what you are writing.  Are you writing about somebody owning something?  (Charlotte's car.) Then use an apostrophe.  Are you writing about mulitiple things? (The Charlottes.) Then please don't freaking use an apostrophe!

After I explained all this to my husband, he allowed as how I was no doubt the most brilliant writer and grammarian on the planet and thus could I please explain the difference between it's and its? And so I did:

it's = it is

its = the possessive

Just remember to ask yourself if you can change "it's" to "it is" and that should solve any confusion.

Are we clear on this now?

What grammar issues do you struggle with?  Are you a grammar nut or a grammar intuitive, like me?

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25 Responses to The Misuse of the Apostrophe

  1. Robyn LaRue 01/20/2014 at 16:56 #

    This is the BIG pet peeve of writing for me. I even wrote a blog post about it. Drives me crazy, and I see it everywhere on line, on billboards, in stores. I thought there would be a much bigger hue and cry about this, but now that it is even in business documentation and advertising, I feel like I’m holding my finger on a leak in the Hoover Dam, you know?

  2. Charlotte Dixon 01/20/2014 at 17:21 #

    A kindred spirit!  Thank you!  We need to start a crusade.  It seems like basic English to me, but maybe they aren't teaching it anymore.  I'm off to read your post on it.

  3. Ledger D' Main 01/20/2014 at 18:15 #

    I believe that there is another —it’s—…where one is talking about an inanimate object, such as—the coat had wide labels and it’s buttons were brass…I could be wrong, such as I was in 1922 when I voted for Calvin Coolidge…and you forgot Gibsons=Gibsons’ house…but I may be in error, as I was when I bet Orville 5 dollars that it would never get off the ground…I read somewhere that the decline of the use of an apostrophe is because sign makers/printers hate using it…who knows I may perhaps be mistaken just like the time I told Kellogg that nobody wanted to eat cold corn flakes in the morning…

  4. Charlotte Dixon 01/20/2014 at 18:49 #

    Oh, I do hate to tell you that you are wrong…but in your example of "it's" you are using it as a possessive–the coat's buttons–and that would be its.  It's is always a contraction of it is.  And if the sign had said the Gibson's House, that would have been correct.  But it just said the Gibson's.  Leaving me to assume they meant multiple Gibsons, no possessive.  But I do appreciate you chiming in, as always!

  5. Ledger D' Main 01/20/2014 at 20:11 #

    English, bah humbug…tis why I only write my stories in Druid…and what of the most misused word of the English language?—-upon—

  6. Amanda Martin 01/20/2014 at 23:28 #

    Ah, yes, the greengrocers’ apostrophe. Drives me crazy too; even more so when I realise I’ve used it for things like “all the A’s” because otherwise it read “all the as”. I feel there should be an extra grammatical symbol for plurals of short things like letters and numbers!
    I’m rubbish at grammar. The semi-colon is probably the one I abuse the most! :)

  7. Jessica Baverstock 01/20/2014 at 23:51 #

    I’m freaking out!

    Not at your points about apostrophes, mind. I’m definitely with you on the crusade to end Apostrophe Misuse!

    But I’m freaking out about your use of ‘The Charlottes’…How many of you are there? It’s reminding me of The Midwich Cuckoos!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 01/21/2014 at 05:48 #

    Druid is a fine alternative to English.

  9. Charlotte Dixon 01/21/2014 at 05:49 #

    I love me some semi-colons!  But mostly I love your idea to use another symbol for plurals and such.  It it hard to remember, I second guess myself about the apostrophe all the time, but mostly because it is so often used wrong.

  10. Charlotte Dixon 01/21/2014 at 05:55 #

    I’ll never tell how many of us there are! Heeheehee.

  11. Charlotte Dixon 01/21/2014 at 05:56 #

    We will never tell how many of us there are!  Heeheehee…..I'm glad you liked my little example!

  12. Zan Marie 01/21/2014 at 11:40 #

    Oh, how I *hate* misused apostrophes!!! I have a “fingernails on the blackboard” reaction.

  13. Charlotte Dixon 01/21/2014 at 12:10 #

    You can join our crusade!

  14. Don Williams 01/21/2014 at 14:38 #

    I agree, those who misuse an Apostrophe are worthy of the guillotine, or at least permanent banishment to Siberia. They should be hunted down with all ruthlessness, so, in that case, I think I better start running while I got the chance and before they catch up to me!

  15. Charlotte Dixon 01/21/2014 at 14:48 #

    Uh-oh, we have an apostrophe mis-user in our midst!  Run, Don!

  16. Don Williams 01/21/2014 at 18:43 #

    I’m running…… I’m a running, huff, huff, puff, so just catch me if you can?

  17. Charlotte Dixon 01/21/2014 at 18:54 #

    I shall catch you and make you use apostrophes correctly!

  18. Don Williams 01/21/2014 at 19:52 #

    OH, OH….. I think me is in trouble, ain’t I?

  19. Charlotte Dixon 01/21/2014 at 19:53 #

    You is.

  20. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) 01/22/2014 at 22:25 #

    Charlotte, this was hilarious! I loved every word. Yes, it drives me nuts when people use the apostrophe incorrectly. Another pet peeve is people (even writers!) writing loose when they mean lose. Arrrgghh, me hearties, and walk the plank!

    My latest peeve, however, is the disappearance of the hyphen. I will have to research this; maybe it really has gone out of style, even with grammarians. If it has, I will have a very hard time breaking myself of it. But, if not, I think I will scream and gasp alongside of you.

  21. Charlotte Dixon 01/23/2014 at 08:40 #

    Yes, and the other thing is the disappearance of the Oxford comma. I love the Oxford comma! I love hypens, too. It might only be us writers who care about these things, though!

  22. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) 01/23/2014 at 12:18 #

    I read your post late at night and wanted to think of an example of missing hyphens but nothing came to me. I just got one.

    in the not-too-distant future

    Would you still use hyphens in that example? How about

    self-appointed expert

    (I’m the self-appointed expert on Missing Hyphen Rage ;~)

  23. Charlotte Dixon 01/23/2014 at 12:31 #

    Yes, I would because they come before and modify the noun. That's the rule I learned.  Does that sound right to you?  You make a good self-appointed expert!

  24. Maryse 01/28/2014 at 10:00 #

    Charlotte, the best I’ve come across so far is, ITS’. Indeed… And then there’s you’re and your. I blame it all on the speed of texting. Fingers go where thay may and no one proof-reads anymore. :(

  25. Charlotte Dixon 01/28/2014 at 16:46 #

    I know, it is all very confusing!  And I love your example–the things we come up with!

    Sent from my iPad

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