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?

A Short Post on the SemiColon

Awhile ago, I wrote a short post on commas, confessing that it was a short post because I really didn't know much about them. 

One of my writing friends, Anthony (who is not only an amazing writer but a judge, for God's sake) suggested I write a post about semicolons.  Sure thing, I wrote him in an email.

And then I didn't write the post.

Because, guess what?  I think I know even less about semicolons than I do about commas.

But then I decided I liked this short post thing I had going on and that I'd give it a shot.  So here goes.

You use a semi-colon when linking two complete clauses.  (Think of a complete clause as a sentence.  I'm sure there's a more complex definition of it, but if so, I don't know it.  And won't know it.  So let's keep things simple.) 

So, two complete clauses:

The room was elegant and dark.  The woman who sat in it matched the decor.

Linked with a semicolon:

The room was elegant and dark; the woman who sat in it matched the decor.

As far as I'm concerned (and I'm willing to admit I could be wrong) you use a semicolon in circumstances when you want to link the complete clauses in some way.  In the example above, it makes sense to link the two phrases, no? 

But, honestly?  Either style works for me.  True confession: I tend to think of semicolons as a bit stuffy and pedantic.  I rarely use them, to the point that the grammar check on my computer hates me because it corrects my commas with semicolons so often.  Sometimes I put the semicolons in just to make it happy.

Because I have done a relatively lame incomplete job of discussing the semicolon, I present you with these resources to further enhance your understanding of this bit of puncutation.

How To Use a Semicolon (the most feared punctuation on earth).  This post from The Oatmeal is funny, charming, and actually informative.  I highly recommend it.  The author also discusses the theory of the pause in grammar, which is how I do commas.

Semicolon.  I find this Wikipedia page complicated and obtuse, but you might like it.  I'm willing to admit that my dislike of the semicolon is coloring my opinion of it.

The Semicolon.  I can't figure out what this site is, but it features a clear explanation of the punctuation in question.

What are your feelings about semicolons?  Do you have feelings about semicolons?  It's okay if you don't, but let's discuss anyway.



A Short Post on Commas

I'll be honest.  This is a short post on commas because I don't know much about them.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I'm a writing teacher, coach and soon-to-be-published novelist.  I've got me an MFA.

And commas still confuse me.

I tend to put them in manuscripts, both mine and my students'.

But I noticed that the editor of my novel took a lot of my commas out.

This morning I worked on a student packet that needed commas after clauses of sentences.  So that meant, of course, that I had to explain to my student why I put the commas in.

And I will admit that I was pretty hopeless at it.  (If you want an extreme emphasis on grammar, don't ever hire me.  If you want great ideas about story, character, and setting, I'm your gal.)

Commas, to me, are like art: I know when they go in a sentence, but I don't necessarily know why.  So here's the explanation I offered my student and the one I offer you:

Read the sentence out loud and any time you pause, put a comma there.

That's it.  That's all I've got.

Maybe you have something better?  Some general piece of advice about commas?  A nifty site that reveals all the secrets of the beast?  Please comment.

**And if you do want to hire me, here's the scoop.  I've got amazing clients doing great work at the moment.  Wouldn't you like to be one of them?