Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Grammar - Use of the Apostrophe

Still busy, busy, busy :-( No time for writing this week.

All the same, I do like to keep the blog rolling, so here's a little post on grammar.

I was never given a proper grammar lesson at school, though in the course of English lessons, in primary school, the teachers did point out some very important points. I was lucky enough to go to a small school, (two classes per room but probably no more than 25 pupils per room) so maybe that's why my teachers were able to address the topic...or maybe other teachers address it and people just didn't pay attention. Or care.

We all make little errors from time to time, and that's fair enough. However, I think some people genuinely don't know the difference between key words that sound/are pronounced the same, but are different in spelling/how they're written - and of course, different in meaning.

The most commons errors are:

1. Your and You're
2. Its and It's
3. There, Their and They're

All but one of these mix ups (between "There" and "Their") can be fixed if you remember one little rule:

The apostrophe (this: ' ) stands for a missing letter (or letters). 

"You are" is clearly the one that gets shortened to "You're" because of the key placement of said apostrophe.("Your" then, is left as the one meaning "belonging to you".)

"It is" becomes "It's" and "They are" turns into "They're". ("Its" means "belonging to it", "There" means "that place" and "Their" means "belonging to them".)

So before you use an apostrophe, think what letter it represents. Can the word you're about to insert an apostrophe into be broken into two words (Such as "didn't" can be written as "Did not", as well as the aforementioned examples).

There are a few exceptions to this rule - of course there are; English is a complicated language.

One is the word "Won't" which is actually short for "Will not" - but for some reason, at some point in time, someone changed it. Possibly because saying "Willn't" (try saying it out loud) isn't actually any easier or faster to do than just saying "Will not".

The other is the occasion where an apostrophe denotes ownership. As in the title of this blog:

The apostrophe in such a circumstance indicates that it the object referred to (in this case, the blog) belongs to me, Joleen.

So I can see where confusion arises - apostrophes denote ownership in some circumstances, whereas in others, represent missing letters when often the alternative word (your/its/their) is the one that refers to ownership or belonging. Still, while it may be a bit confusing, it isn't rocket science. It isn't so complicated that it can't be learned.

Writers - it is to your advantage to know rules of grammar, as mistakes just tend to give editors an excuse not to lift your work from the slush pile - and as all us struggling writers know, many editors do not need a lot in the way of encouragement to reject work! Also - if you're self publishing, it looks a lot better to have the correct grammar in place.

Non-writers - it is also to your advantage, because communication is important, and being understood is key to effective communication. And because grammar is not some elitist concept like quantum physics, understandable only by the minority. You should not wear your lack of grammatical knowledge like a badge of honour. There is no honour in being unwilling to learn the right way to do something. Society may currently embrace vapid celebrities who wear their ignorance proudly, but this doesn't mean we should not, as a society, aim higher than this.

For a much less preachy, much funnier description of how and when to use an apostrophe, you should really check out The Oatmeal. It's hilarious. Enjoy!


David Barber said...

Are you picking on me because I put an apostrophe in photos? :-)

I've never been great with the little bugger so your post is most helpful. Thanks!

Joleen said...

Hehe, nope, wasn't picking on you! but glad it helped. I don't think grammar is taught very well (there's plenty I don't understand myself, my errors generally involve mixing up of tenses) but I do think it's good to try to do it right whenever possible, I figure between a load of us we probably know all the rules & can help each other out :-)

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel