It’s. Just. An. Apostrophe.

It never ceases to amaze how so many people not only misuse, but abuse, the poor, lowly apostrophe. It doesn’t have to be that way. Ever.

You see, this is one of the easiest rules not only to understand, but master. Think back. Think way, way back. You may have to reach back to those elementary school days…or ask your kids. You see, we all learned at an early age that an apostrophe is used to indicate a possessive word. And if the word is not possessing anything on God’s green earth, then don’t use it. See? Simple!

Of course, that is the “apostrophe rule” in its simplest form (did you notice that I did NOT use an apostrophe in the word “its?” It doesn’t possess anything).

As with anything in the hardest language in the world (yes, English IS the hardest language to learn in the world, and I should know: I studied both Korean and Russian. Easy in comparison), there are definite rules for its usage. And while there are slight changes in rules of usage with the apostrophe, they are so very frequently misapplied! Seriously?

So, to help those who are “apostrophe” challenged…a list of rules for usage.

1. An apostrophe is used to show the possessive case of proper nouns.

• Allison Jones’ article (one person named Jones)
• The Joneses’ article
(two or more people named Jones)

2. If a singular or plural word does not end in s, add ’s to form the possessive.

• a child’s wants
• the men’s concerns
• the people’s choice
• everyone’s answer

3. Add an ’s if a proper noun or name ends in a silent s, z, or x.

• Theroux’s “The Mosquito Coast”

4. Do not use ’s with possessive pronouns: his, hers, ours, its, yours, theirs, whose.

• The article was hers.
• I have not seen its equal.

5. Use ’s only after the last word of a compound term.

• my father-in-law’s book
• an editor in chief’s decision
• someone else’s problem

6. When showing joint possession with an organization’s or business firm’s name, use the possessive only in the last word.

• the Food and Drug Administration’s policy
• Hammond and Horn’s study

7. Do not use an apostrophe to indicate the plural of a name, an all-capital abbreviation, or of numerals.

• Veterans Affairs
• musicians union
• ECGs
• WBCs
• a woman in her 40s
• during the late 1990s
(1990’s—no, no, no, a thousand times no! This will NEVER be acceptable so please stop the abuse.)

8. Use ’s to indicate the plural of letters, signs, or symbols when s alone would be confusing.

• Please spell out all the &’s.
• She got eight A’s and two B’s on her last report card.

9. When units of time or money are used as possessive adjectives, add ’s.

• a day’s wait
• a dollar’s worth
• six months’ gestation
• two weeks’ notice
(The movie title was not punctuated correctly.)

10. When a word ends in an apostrophe, no period or comma should be placed between the word and the apostrophe.

• The last book on the shelf was the Smiths’.

Easy, right? I know…it is. Now follow the rules. And please, for the love of all things holy, STOP adding an apostrophe to dates, as they don’t possess anything, never will, and own that apostrophe! Any thoughts on the small, but mighty, apostrophe?

For the Love of the Oxford Comma

Okay, so I know this is a point of contention for many a writer and editor: you are either for or against the Oxford, or serial, comma. I make no bones about it: I am definitely an Oxford comma girl. Can’t help myself. It just makes sense to use it. And, to further make the point, I cut my teeth in an industry as an editor where the Oxford comma was king. Please see the Chicago Manual of Style if you need proof.

And to illustrate the difference, double click on the awesome infographic below, also available on OnlineSchools.com:

oxford-comma

Writing IS Hard

Of course it is. If it were easy, everyone would do it, and more importantly, do it well. But, they don’t. Most people hate writing, and most can barely put two sentences, let alone two words, together in a way that makes any sense whatsoever. And that’s where we come in. Writers. And editors. We do the work that others either don’t want to do, or can’t do.

Writers may be crazy, but trust me, there is a clear-cut reason for this. Bear with me. This will all make sense. While we all know that most people would rather gnaw off their own arm than write a single line of copy, these are the very same people who will tear apart and ruthlessly criticize the work that writers do. The work that they hire us to do for them. And while I do believe in the merits of constructive criticism, I take issue with the random rants of those who have no background or experience in editing the English language.

I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to make something that is grammatically correct incorrect because the “reviewer” has no editorial background whatsoever, and simply believes the copy is wrong. I am then forced to justify it. Pull out a style manual. Site a grammar rule. Provide an example. Explain why the copy is correct. I mean, seriously, I’m a writer. I’ve been writing for more than 20 years. What I am not is an English teacher. But at times, I feel I am more of the latter than the former.

I shouldn’t complain though. I know it’s an occupational hazard given the field I’m currently in. I do not work in the world of publishing anymore, surrounded by professional writers, editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. It’s a different reality now and I either have to just lower my expectations or accept my role as writer and teacher.

Because … Writing. Is. Hard.

How to … Write Your Articles Faster and Better

Writing can be a tedious activity. Don’t fool yourself. No matter how good you are, there is NOTHING easy about it. Think about it: How many times have you been faced with a blank page and nothing, nada, zip to say. Writing easy? I don’t think so. And article writing can be the most tedious of tasks, even for seasoned writers. So, if you are writing articles and want to have them see the light of day, and get PAID for it, you need to write faster and better. Here’s how:

SHORT ARTICLES Plan on writing a lot of articles? If so, it’s a good idea to keep them short. Quick reads. When writing, keep these articles to 300-400 words. And if you have a lot to say about your subject, break it into more than one article. Think of your blog posts and use that as a guide.

GREAT TITLE If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a THOUSAND times: Write a strong headline!!! This is the first thing your readers will see, so it HAS to be an attention-grabber. Hint: Place at least one main keyword in your title because it is the subject that readers will search under; and, if you publish online, it will help you move up in the search engine rankings.

MAKE IT SCANNABLE Simply put: Make your articles easy to read. Keep paragraphs no longer than two or three sentences. Print and proofread your article. Then send it out to be published.

Eminem: What His Writing Can Teach You About Yours

That’s write, I said it. Eminem can teach you a lot about writing simply by listening to the tight lyrics he writes. It can be said that Eminem is a complicated artist, one who provokes pages of arguments – positive and negative – and his overall impact on our culture is for better or worse. But as a writer, few can touch what he’s managed to accomplish.

So pay attention: here’s what you can learn.

Read and Write Everything

Eminem started writing as a child, sanding the rough edges of his craft, knowing without doubt that the only thing that would get him out of the trailer park and into a better life was disciplined effort and endless practice.

He familiarized himself with the greats until storytelling was as natural to him as breathing is to everyone else. He may have started by imitating the pioneers, but he soon blended their legacy into his own style creating something that was like nothing else.

Edit Ruthlessly

Eminem’s best tracks harbor some of the tightest writing ever written. One has to wonder just how long he spends on each song, considering how securely each syllable is cemented in place.

Not only can he craft a compelling argument in prose, he can also rhyme words that shouldn’t rhyme, and pack more poetry into a verse than should be technically possible. Only fastidious editing can pull the written word so taut.

Write What you Know

One of the things that makes Eminem so powerful, so polarizing, is that his message is delivered without any filter whatsoever. Listening to his music is like tuning into a live therapy session. That’s why it’s easy to believe that he is writing directly from his heart and his unique set of experiences.

Start Strong, Finish Stronger

The best of Eminem’s songs achieve something rare in commercially produced music – they realize a powerful climax prior to their conclusion. Many of his songs are written as arguments, and it’s usually in his third verse when he drives his point home, often with a lyrical sledgehammer.

Be Concise and Use Powerful Sentences

Eminem pares his arguments down to the bone. His intuitive sense of flow allows him to seamlessly drift from the measured cadence of ordinary speech to an unrivaled intensity of verse, but it is always the power of his writing that enables him to drive his point home with such precision.

My advice: go out and listen to what he has to say. You will definitely learn something about the craft of writing.

Stop Abusing Me

I love the movie “The Princess Bride.” Absolute classic, right? And here is my favorite line from the movie, though choosing a favorite really is difficult; there are far too many:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ~Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

You’ve got to love that! And I bet you can completely relate to it as well because we are all guilty of it. Every one of us. I still have to check myself on certain words (though I’m not going to tell you which ones!). The fact is, I don’t have an editor on stand-by to set me straight so I have no other choice than to self-edit.

And now you can too. Keep this list of commonly misused and abused words nearby so you can check it when in doubt and stop the cycle of word abuse.

Adverse / Averse

Adverse means unfavorable. Averse means reluctant.

Afterwards

Always wrong in American English. It’s afterward. Skip the “s” if you want to use it correctly.

Complement / Compliment

Most common of all abused words; so common, you will actually see it in products that make it to print. Get clued in: complement is something that adds to or supplements something else. A compliment is something nice, hopefully, someone says about you.

Criteria

Criteria is plural. Its singular form: criterion. If someone tells you they have only one criteria, simply laugh and tell them to either get some more or to get a clue.

Farther / Further

Here’s an easy way to remember this one: when you use farther, you are referring to physical distance. When using further, you are talking about an extension of time or degree.

Fewer / Less

If you can count it, use fewer. If you can’t, use less.

Historic / Historical

OMG. I see these poor little words misused and abused almost every single day! Historic — an important event. Historical — something that happened in the past.

Hopefully

Hopefully is abused so much, it should just be considered a lost cause. I hope (not hopefully; that would just be wrong, right?) this will help you appear smarter: only use hopefully if you’re describing the way someone spoke, appeared, or acted.

CORRECT: I hope she says yes. NOT: Hopefully, she says yes.
CORRECT: It is hoped that the weather cooperates. NOT: Hopefully, the weather will be good.
CORRECT: She eyed the diamond engagement ring hopefully.

Imply / Infer

Imply means to suggest indirectly — to send a subtle message. Infer means to come to a conclusion based on information — to interpret a message.

Insure / Ensure

Unless you are talking about insurance, insure is always incorrect. Ensure means to guarantee, and that’s probably what you mean, right? Of course it is!

Irregardless

I’ve told you this before: irregardless is not a word. Use regardless or irrespective, but never, ever irregardless. (Regardless of what your friends or anyone else may tell you!)

Literally

“I’m literally starving to death.” Really? Unless you live in a third-world country, I doubt it. When you use literally, you mean that what you are saying is exactly true, completely accurate, and not an exaggeration. Quite honesty, in the world that most of us are fortunate enough to live in, everything is figurative. Or relative. Take your pick.

Premier / Premiere

Here’s is another lowly abused word that I see every day. And here’s how to tell them apart: premier is the first and best in status or importance, while premiere is the opening night of a movie. The two are not interchangeable no matter how hard you try.

Principal / Principle

Once and for all:

Principal — as a noun, the top dog; as an adjective, the most important of any set. Principle — always a noun meaning a fundamental truth, a law, a rule, or a code of conduct.

Towards

Just like afterwards always wrong in American English. It’s toward. Skip the “s” if you want to use it correctly.

Unique

This one always surprises me because unique literally means one of a kind. Nothing can be very unique, or truly unique. It either is or it isn’t. Period.

Who / Whom

The mother of all abuses, and one that should be written off as a lost cause. I mean, really, I’m not even sure why bewildered high school English teachers even bother teaching this to their students anymore.

But, if you want to get it right, here’s how: use a simple substitution method — who for subjects and whom for objects.

Now you are ready to rule your writing with an iron fist. Or like an editor.

Editing on the Fly

It never fails. Because I write, everyone assumes I am a walking encyclopedia of grammar know-how. A spelling bee know-it-all. All day long it’s “allyah, how do you spell this” and “allyah, how do you spell that.” “allyah, should I use a colon here, or would an em-dash be better?” Okay, that’s not actually what they say: 1) I write under a pen name, and 2) they certainly know how to spell “this” and “that.” For God sake, I hope so.

The point is, I don’t have a computer chip in my head. I’m not a flowing font of information. Sometimes, my brain gets tired. There’s a lot of useless information that I carry up there, and I don’t have time to edit on the fly, sifting through all that garbage to find the one thing that someone needs on the spot when there’s an easier solution: look it up. And yes, it sucks because it takes time and effort, but what’s the alternative? Crappy copy? I don’t think so.

So use your resources, online or in print, and rely on your own brain instead of running to your “allyah equivalent.” Trust me, she, or he, will thank you some day.