Thursday, September 14, 2006

An ode to the apostrophe

All of us know Mr. Apostrophe and Miss Comma. You usually don't see them together, but they have something in common that I am highly concerned about.

Both are abused extensively by people like you and me.

No, that's not quite right. Let me rephrase that. Both are abused extensively. I would never abuse them!

Wondering what I am trying to get at? Here, let me give you some hints.
May I have three box’s of those almond chocolates please?
Look at all these bus’es!
Look at this neat bag. Its got style!
I need some cookies , milk , a dozen eggs and of course , a discount.
Let me tell you ,we have consistently met all our SLA's.

The last one, delivered by a premier Bschool product during a client presentation, was what pushed me over the edge and made my itchy fingers finally write this piece.

Why is it so difficult to understand the correct usage of the apostrophe and the comma? Yup, I am a stickler for punctuation - especially the lovely apostrophe and the curvy comma. But then I won't be like Ms. Truss, who, in her book Eats Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, says,
"anyone putting an apostrophe in a possessive "its"-as in "the dog chewed it's bone"-should be struck by lightning and chopped to bits."

Now that's too much. The stickler in me doesn't get to swearing, but I just hope that whenever someone abuses our dear friends, there is a stickler like me around to point it out at the expense of sounding like a Ms. Know-All. I don't care. I just want to spread the message.

So let's get this clear once and for all.
You put a space after a comma, not before one!
Apostrophes are used in possessives and contractions. Everything else is wrong!

However, in case of plurals, the possessive apostrophe comes after the 's':
"the girls' shoes"
"companies' policies"

There are different rules for singular words that end with an 's' sound. I am not gonna go into that here. Look it up, if you are interested.

There are some other exceptions too. An apostrophe is required to indicate possession except in the case of possessive pronouns (i.e., "mine", "yours", "his", "hers", "its", "ours" and "theirs").

Now let's talk about "its". I had always wondered till some years back why a possessive "its" doesn't have an apostrophe and when do I use it with an apostrophe. They never taught this in my grammar lessons (or maybe I was dozing off then!). The stickler in me did look it up and here I am sharing the information for those of you who didn't know the difference. (If you know the difference, trust me, we are a very small group. Be happy.)
"It's" is a contraction of "it is" or "it has" as in "It's late."
"Its" is a possessive pronoun as in "Its handles are falling apart."

Now that's all about the apostrophe and the comma. I hope some of you who had no clue on how to use these two stumble upon this blog and turn a new leaf.

But how about "lose" and "loose"? Don't even get me started on that. :( I could go on and on. I feel really sorry for all the losers who end up using the wrong word and don't even realise what a fool they make of themselves.

If you think that I am going way overboard with this punctuation lecture and if you belong to the sect that believes that a wrong punctuation here or there is not that big a deal, well, my dear friend, think again. There might be a stickler like me sitting in the audience judging you. Not everyone (like me) would come up and tell you about the wrong usage, but it just might end up costing you that client presentation that you always wanted to make or even that promotion you've been eying for so long.

Let me end with a GJ.
Kingsley Amis, when asked to state a sentence whose meaning depended on a possessive apostrophe, said:
“Those things over there are my husbands.

Cheers to all the fellow sticklers!


aqua said...

I can say u r "a stickler for promptness". The points(oops.. apostrophe here) u have mentioned are facts.

Am still little confused..

I will look in to 'Wren & Martin' for more reference!

Rajesh said...

Hi there

I have admired your blog for some time now. I admire the aesthetics & the word usage on this blog (the comment on aesthetics extends to the photographs on your blog). I would like to know your comments on something I am writing. I dont know your mail ID. So I am putting up mine ( Would appreciate it if you could send me a test mail on this so that I can send you the piece of writing I am talking about. For your reference, my blog is
Looking forward to hearing from you.

rakuboy said...

yeah... I too have earned the wrath of my friends on many occassions for trying to correct grammar..
great GJ btw...

chaos said...

long time ma'm (now that's another use of Mr Apostrophy) ... English Grammer - always a pain...

Anonymous said...

Goodness gracious. That was so apt and nice. Now that people have been educated about the Mr. Apostrophe and Miss. Comma, how about a lecture on curbing excessive usage of the ellipsis and a damnation of sms language.

Btw, since we are both 'sticklers', may I bring your kind attention next to the need for brevity. Use one word where 4 are needed. Do not use extra words when not needed. For eg:

"If you think that I am going way overboard with this punctuation lecture and if you belong to the sect that believes "

THAT in the first line isn't exactly needed, is it?

Ciao and have a great day :-)


ps: Just a thought - I think Miss is also an abbreviation for mistress but would there be a . after Miss? Look it up please.

Girl With Big Eyes said...

All the best, Aqua!

Hey Rakuboy or should I say "Welcome, fellow stickler!" :)

Come on Chaos. It's a pain when it's misused!

Thanks U-No-Hu, will look that up! :)
But I don't subscribe to the brevity theory. I like long winding sentences, as long as they are not directed at me. :P

Anonymous said...

"anyone putting an apostrophe in a possessive "its"-as in "the dog chewed it's bone"-should be struck by lightning and chopped to bits."

Sounds a bit like ''avande thalayil idithee veezhatte''

Was Ms Truss really a mallu in disguise..trying to impress???
(I put 3 ? marks in row...lemme run for cover!!!..)


Shanks_P said...

Hmmm Great class ..stickler...
I'm one fellow who have spelling mistakes and punctation mistakes as a twin brother for me which follows me in every language i know.

Letters written in my mative language is still the most popular joke at home.

Any way for my next presentation i'll take note of ur points ....Mr "'" and Mr","

so u don't have anything to say abt '.' ? :)

vivek shandilya said...

That was some nice notes on punctuation.It helped.Thanks.
Now to better your GJ at the end...
Woman, without her, man is a savage.
Woman, without her man, is a savage.

Aravind Criton (Joseph) said...

Big sis.. u starting a school soon??

Rahul N said...

hey...good one. reading your blog after a long time infact and i really enjoyed this one :)

Anonymous said...

there are certain things that one feels strongly (disgusted) about.

not figuring out the diff between LOSE and LOOSE is one ....even the 'best and brightest' make the error...leading me to conclude that they are really not what i had assumed them to be ...but otherwise it wud have been a splendid piece.

wreckless use of apostrophe is another... how about CD's for compact discs...grrrrrrrr...why on earth cant they write CDs.

and dont get me started on ITS and IT'S.....glad to find someone who feels equally irritated and feels the pain in maybe a greater much so that a blog is written on it ...ha ha

- AOB (An Old Batchmate)