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?

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Disconnected Writing Kills: Great Transition Words Just Might Be the Cure

There is nothing worse than disconnected, disjointed writing. Your target audience completely gets lost (and not in translation). Your message is missed. And quite simply, no one understands what you’re trying to say.

But never fear…this, too, can be cured with great transition words. No magic wand needed…just you and your fabulous writing skills that will connect sentences and paragraphs into a unified body of writing.

Transition words help both the reader and the writer move from one idea to another idea in one fluid movement. Seamlessly. Painlessly. And with utter understanding.

Admittedly, transitions can be tricky if you aren’t accustomed to using them properly. Their placement can be awkward, making your writing even more cumbersome. And, I’m sorry to say, but no, you can’t just rely on your old stand-by words of  “but,” “however,” and “in addition.” You’ll need a handy list to pull from…and look what I just happen to have for you:

  • accordingly
  • admittedly
  • afterward
  • alternatively
  • altogether
  • as a result
  • at the same time
  • at this point
  • by comparison
  • certainly
  • clearly
  • concurrently
  • consequently
  • considering this
  • conversely
  • evidently
  • further
  • furthermore
  • given these points
  • in any case
  • incidentally
  • indeed
  • meanwhile
  • moreover
  • nevertheless
  • notably
  • obviously
  • on the contrary
  • otherwise
  • overall
  • previously
  • surprisingly
  • therefore
  • whereas
  • yet

Clearly, not every word on this list will work for your style of writing, nor is this list exhaustive. Moreover, pick and choose your transition words carefully to reflect your style of writing. And, yes, “clearly” and “moreover” were my choices for transition words to end this blog. I think they both work for my style of writing, don’t you?

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

“I” Before “E” Except After “C” …

I LOVE breaking writing rules if they make my writing better. But I also love find writing rules often considered tried-and-true, can-always-be-counted-on rules. So let’s start with the “i” before “e” except after “c” rule. It’s such a good one!

I know people who swear by this one, but the fact of the matter is it simply can’t be used across the board. Need proof?  Here’s a list of words where that rule simply does not apply:

  • Beige
  • Cleidoic
  • Codeine
  • Conscience
  • Deify
  • Deity
  • Deign
  • Dreidel
  • Eider
  • Eight
  • Either
  • Feign
  • Fein
  • Feisty
  • Foreign
  • Forfeit
  • Freight
  • Gleization
  • Gneiss
  • Greige
  • Greisen
  • Heifer
  • Heigh-ho
  • Height
  • Heinous
  • Heir
  • Heist
  • Leitmotiv
  • Neigh
  • Neighbor
  • Neither
  • Peignoir
  • Prescient
  • Rein
  • Science
  • Seiche
  • Seidel
  • Seine
  • Seismic
  • Seize
  • Sheik
  • Society
  • Sovereign
  • Surfeit
  • Teiid
  • Veil
  • Vein
  • Weight
  • Weir
  • Weird

Know some other “i” before “e” except after “c” rule breaking words? Drop me a comment and share!

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.

Is Proper English Becoming Obsolete?

Is proper English becoming obsolete? Going the way of the typewriter and liquid paper? OMG, I hope not. But wait! I just short-handed in my own blog, so maybe there is something to this story …

Short-hand via texting and instant messaging is quickly replacing the way we “write” and that lingo is not only creeping into our everyday writing, but in the way we compose our business emails and quick correspondences. Are you serious? Yes. And not only am I serious, but sad to say, I am guilty of it too.

Oftentimes I end a quick internal email to a co-worker with three little letters: Thx. I got into this nasty habit when I started receiving emails from another coworker that signed off in the very same way. Insidious! Then there’s the evil “K” as in “k?” or “k.” Is it really too hard to write “ok” or better yet, “okay?” We have shortened an already short word to one lone letter. And yes, I have to admit that I have done this as well. Shameful.

But this is the danger of short-handing it. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it creeps into our business writing where it has no business. Use short-hand where you should: instant messaging and texting. And maintain the purity of proper English in your written work so you maintain your stellar reputation as a professional who actually has a handle on the English language.

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.