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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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 Suppose I Should Address this…Supposably

I saw this pic posted on Facebook today, and my first thought was: Uh? That can’t be right. But, so many people were in agreement, and as you know, I am all about breaking the rules IF, and only if, they should be broken. There isn’t even a question about this one, however.

Supposably

To confirm that I was correct, and this little photo was not, I went to my girl, Grammar Girl. And she confirmed what I had said as being true: Supposably IS a word. It just happens to be used incorrectly. All. The. Time. You see,  the problem is that supposably simply does not mean the same thing as supposedly. Never has. Never will. But, it is indeed a word. Let’s take a closer look…

People who grasp for supposably are usually searching for supposedly, meaning “assumed to be true” and almost always includes a hint of sarcasm or disbelief (something I would never be guilty of, right?):

  • Supposedly, he canceled our date because his mom had an emergency.
  • She supposedly sent the check, but it was lost in the mail.

Supposably means “supposable,” “conceivable,” or “arguably.” It is only a valid word in American English as those Brits wisely refuse to accept it.

Supposably v. supposedly. And now it could be said that you supposably know which word to use when.

Thank you Grammar Girl!

“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!

You Can’t Break the Rules Unless You Know the Rules

So, that seems self-evident enough, right? Yet, time after time, I am lectured by non-writing professionals about the rules of writing and how they simply cannot be broken. Ever. Period.

Really? Well here’s a newsflash: times have changed, and with them, the traditional rules that used to dictate the way we wrote in grammar school have changed as well. In other words, if you’re not a professional writer, you are probably still adhering to the same tired rules that your 5th grade grammar school teacher taught you, and that professional writers long outgrew for a much more sophisticated writing style.

Case in point: I am still corrected on the use of beginning a sentence with the word “and.” Old school. Doesn’t apply any more. In these modern writing times, as evidenced in nearly every modern book in print today, you will find sentences that start with the word “and.” It works. It makes sense. And, it’s dramatic.

Like how I worked that in? And doesn’t it work? And yes, it is dramatic. And I did it three more times!!!!

So, the point is this: refresh yourself on yesteryear’s writing rules, because once you know what they are, you can break them at will to become a much more sophisticated writer.

Well, you can break a lot of them. You really can’t break all of them. That would just be madness.

Not all writing rules are meant to be broken. But you can’t even begin to break writing rules unless you know what the rules of writing are to begin with. And, if you’re still with me, and I’m hoping that you are, that’s exactly where we are going next…Writing Rules 101. Learn them and break them.

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 Like an Expert

So you want to write an article, a little something for your local newspaper or maybe a regional or national magazine, but you either can’t come up with an idea (we’ll tackle that in another post) or you don’t think you have the credentials to back you up to get it published.

Not true. All you need to get your article published is a great idea with an even greater hook or angle (again, look for a How to in another post!) and the following: impeccable research; proper format; authoritative writing; and careful proofreading. These are the the four key areas that will make what your writing sound as if you ARE an expert.

RESEARCH IT Research doesn’t have to be hard; it just has to be good. You certainly don’t have to spend hours on end on the Internet or in a library pouring over your subject. First, create a title for your article then Google it. Look through the hits you get and select only those sites that come from reputable sources. Skim through three or four of the top sites and come up with three to five points for your article. Rewrite each one in your own words and NEVER plagiarize.

USE PROPER FORMAT Sloppy writing, just like sloppy research, will kill your chances of getting published. Want to get noticed? Make sure your article has: An introduction, body, and conclusion. These are your foundations.

  • Introduction: Keep it short. Get to the point of your article in 50 words or less, then move on.
  • Body: Lay out the context of your article, point-by-point. Consider your audience and write to them. A mass market piece shouldn’t talk over their heads. For this audience, take no more than three or four sentences for each point and back up your claims with facts or data.
  • Conclusion: End your article with a summary and, this is important, keep your opinions to yourself.

AVOID ADDING FLUFF Get to the point of what you want to say; don’t be wordy! Fluff gives your article a passive tone … the exact opposite of what you want as an “expert” – an authoritative tone. This stye of writing is not only easier to read but it makes a statement, and your readers will react positively to this.

PROOFREAD If you solely rely on spellcheck to check your writing, you are making a HUGE mistake. It won’t catch words spelled correctly but used improperly, i.e. from/form, affect/effect, etc. The most effective way to proof your work: Print it and read it out loud. Your ears will hear any awkward sentences and you’ll probably catch one or two homophone typos or complete mix-ups.

So now you know how to write something that makes you sound like you are the expert: Research your topic. Use proper format. Leave out unnecessary words. And print and proofread by reading out loud … the secrets to writing an engaging article on any topic you choose.