The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: That Pesky ‘s

I’ve decided to create a series of posts to channel my inner Grammar Nazi, and to hopefully help people with their writing. I blog about writing tips of all sorts, but I haven’t yet gotten into that tedious subject of spelling, grammar, and word usage.

It’s not fun, but it’s necessary if you want to move your writing past the rough draft stage. Please note, that if your main concern right now is pushing past your writer’s block, or developing your main character, don’t worry too much about spelling and grammar at this point. But if you’re wanting to put some polish on that story before you submit it, or that essay before you turn it in to the teacher, or that blog post before you hit publish, this might help you.

My subject for today is the apostrophe s. A lot of people seem to get confused about the proper use for an apostrophe, and especially an apostrophe s. So here’s the deal: an apostrophe is that little mark that looks like a single quote mark that appears in words like don’t, I’m, and McDonald’s.

The apostrophe has two functions: it can represent a letter or series of letters that is missing from a word or phrase, and it also can represent a possessive.

In the case of “don’t” and “I’m,” the apostrophe is replacing the missing letter from the pair of words “do not” and “I am,” respectively, thus creating a contraction. In the case of “McDonald’s,” it indicates that something belongs to McDonald—as in, McDonald’s Restaurant.

This possessive apostrophe s is what trips up a lot of people. In English, the plural for a word (usually) has an s on the end, so many people get these two s word endings confused. I’ll lay out some examples:

Correct:

I saw the cat’s toy. (I saw the toy that belongs to the cat.)

The car’s rear window was broken. (The rear window belonging to the car was broken.)

I’m going over to Antonio’s to play video games. (I am going over to the home of Antonio to play video games.)

Incorrect:

I saw the cat’s toy’s. (The toy’s what? The color of the toy? The painted smile on the toy?)

The cars rear window was broken. (“Cars” with no apostrophe is plural, meaning that “was” should be replaced with “were.” And “window” is still singular. But that’s a subject for a different blog entry.)

I’m going over to Antonio’s to play video game’s. (What belongs to the games of Antonio?)

Here are some common misuses of the apostrophe s that I see:

We sell DVD’s! (You sell something that belongs to a DVD? Oh, you mean you sell multiple DVDs.)

The dog shook it’s head. (This translates into “the dog shook it is head,” which makes no sense. And even though “its” would be correct and is possessive, there is no apostrophe. More on the inconsistencies of English in another post.)

Lets go! (Technically, this is an incomplete sentence. It might be the last part of a phrase like “She slides down the rope and then lets go.” But I think what you meant here was a contraction of “Let us go.”)

Grammar goofs and incorrect apostrophes are not a big deal on your Facebook status or your text to your brother. But for a blog post, an article, a report for school, a brochure that represents the face of a company, etc—try to double-check your possessives and your plurals. Get a friend to look over it—sometimes an extra pair of eyes can help.

I hope this grammar rant was helpful to you! English is confusing even to us native speakers. I hope I helped to clear up a little confusion about a language of inconsistencies!

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5 thoughts on “The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: That Pesky ‘s

  1. Pingback: The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: Homophones | StorytellerGirl

  2. Pingback: The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: A Basic Guide to Punctuation | StorytellerGirl

  3. Pingback: The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: Grammar Rules Matter | StorytellerGirl

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