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

Can a Computer Replace the Skills of an Editor?

At my last job, I was asked point-blank why in this day and age of advanced technology and general access to computers would any company need the services of an editor? I was, for lack of a better word, dumbfounded.

First, why would anyone ask a fellow employee to justify whether his or her position were truly necessary? Second, who could possibly think that a computer could do the job of an editor? Yes, computers can do some pretty wonderful things for writers and non-writers alike. They can spot basic grammar problems and even suggest corrections, find spelling errors, and on occasion spot places where a word may be missed. Not exactly foolproof. But they can’t rewrite poorly written copy, find garbled grammar, and fix word usage problems.

Case in point: The following sentence has a number of problems that your computer won’t identify but will make you look less than stellar. Would you rather rely on your laptop or the eagle eye of an editor?

Thomas ran form the back of the filed and caught the flier but he dropped it when he tipped.

Horrible sentence. I’m embarrassed to even use it as an example. Poorly written — spellchecker doesn’t care. Transposed letters — the words are correct (form, filed, flier, tripped) even though they don’t make sense in this sentence; spellchecker doesn’t care about that either. Missing comma — missed by spellchecker. These are the types of errors you will find in countless documents every day because we as a society have come to rely on spellchecker far too much.

So do you think companies need the services of editors, copyeditors, or proofreaders? I think the example above sufficiently answers that question.