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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Befuddled Apostrophe


Before I became a writer, I was an English teacher. I taught Advanced Placement (A.P.) English to ninth and eleventh graders. I did my best to hone their writing skills and teach them about literature, but the reality of it was that they retained very little of what I taught.
Let's be honest, most people ignore good grammar, not caring how they express themselves—especially now. These are dark days for the English language. Regardless of what teachers try to convey in school, on TV, in movies and at home, children hear people expressing themselves poorly. A well turned phrase is meaningless. If it's not typed in 140 characters or less, they won't read it. Something that takes more than 30 seconds to read, holds no interest. Don't get me started on texting.
Good spelling? It's gone by the way, as evidenced by the complete misunderstanding of how to use an apostrophe. I want to shake people until their teeth rattle. I understand the occasional typo, but consistently making such a simple minded error drives me crazy.
Despite the posts littering Facebook, folks don't know the difference between YOUR and YOU'RE. The first shows possession—you own it is is YOUR home, car, boat, hairbrush. The second is a contraction of YOU ARE.
Mixing up THEIR and THERE is another mistake I can't understand. The first spelling shows possession—this is THEIR home, car, boat, hairbrush. The second usage is location. Let's go THERE this Saturday. Set the plants over THERE. This becomes even more problematic when we add an S.
THEIRS – Still showing possession. That house is THEIRS. (no apostrophe needed)
THERE'S – This is another contraction. A contraction is where lazy people (like me) combine two words to make one. In this case, a noun IS and an adverb THERE. Since we are leaving out the I from IS, the apostrophe takes its spot, making THERE'S.
Another offender—ITS and IT'S. I see the confusion on this one, truly I do. So often, an apostrophe is used to show possession: Dellani's pen, Joe's car keys, Mike's phone. Those are all nouns.
IT isn't a noun, IT is a pronoun (something we use instead of a noun). Therefore, we don't use a possessive, we add an S.
One may point to IT'S and protest “But, Dellani, there is an apostrophe there! Surely that means IT'S is a possessive pronoun!”
No, dear. IT'S is a contraction, short for IT IS.
I think that's enough today. Even my mind is boggling and I know this stuff. I leave you with this helpful reminder of how to use these words:
YOU'RE going to YOUR house to get THEIR things that they left THERE. IT'S dark when you arrive at ITS location, but THERE'S a light on. You collect everything of THEIRS and take them home.

© Dellani Oakes


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