Easy peasy apostrophes – part 2

My last post sparked quite a bit of a stir! The resounding answer to the question I posed: “Is text-speak killing my beloved apostrophe?” was a clear NO.

My insatiable appetite for proofreading and catching errors is shared by some like-minded contributors on LinkedIn (thank you all). Some pointed out that using an apostrophe + s to denote plurals can be a matter of which style guide you prefer to follow, or indeed whether you are using UK or US English.

American examples cited were “recite your ABC’s”, “dot your I’s and cross your T’s” which I suppose I can grudgingly understand, and can also be used in dates like “the 1980’s”, although I still don’t see the necessity for that.

But the one that finally convinced me personally that you should NOT use the apostrophe to indicate a plural was this one: “do’s and don’t’s” – apostrophe overkill and abomination!

The skill of a good copy editor or proofreader is revealed when they can come up with an alternative way of saying the same thing, without it sounding contrived or clumsy, so I liked these suggestions:

“Mind your Ps and Qs”, and “Dot your Is and cross your Ts”.

As for the “do”s and “don’t”s of apostrophe use – well there you have my personal preference!

Another very common error that makes me shudder and cringe, is the labelling of certain foods in supermarkets and restaurants: just a matter of early learning ignored in my view: one potato, two potatoes, three tomatoes more … not potato’s and tomato’s or hero’s and Polo’s!

It does get more complicated, I grant you. My article was intended to highlight a very common mistake, one which is easily corrected with a short “lesson”.

Now then, let’s get serious!

What about the possessive apostrophe – as in my example: Carol’s shoes? I gave a simple example there (cunningly because I knew things could get sticky!)

Funnily enough, considering all the commotion the little creature causes, the beleaguered apostrophe is only really noticed in the written form – it’s hardly ever noticed in the spoken word.

Unless of course we get the predicament of where the name ends in -es, or -ez … or -ess even? I am thinking now of the shoes of James, the words of Jesus, and the talents of Moses … ugh! What do we do with all these ZeZes and ZeSes sounds? Infuriatingly, we find there are different ways of handling these, and indeed different ways of saying them!

So we might have James’s shoes, (sound each S), Jesus’s words, (sound it 3 times in that one) but frustratingly Moses’ tablets (just try saying MoZeZes!)

So in case you hadn’t noticed, while there are many English grammar rules, there are almost as many exceptions to the rule. Sometimes there is no way around it but to LEARN it. The bottom line is consistency – if there is no hard and fast rule, and it’s a matter of personal preference or the style an author wants his editor to follow, then just be consistent in each use.

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