Catastrophe With The Apostrophe

I love baseball. But the word-nerd and grammar nazi in me gets annoyed whenever I see the Oakland Athletics on television. Even though they correctly spell out “Athletics” on their jerseys, they use the dreaded “A’s” on their ballcaps. Notice there is no apostrophe with the plural on the jerseys but there is on the caps. Appalling.

Apostrophes should not be used with nouns just because they become plural. This is a common mistake, but still inexcusable. And for writers who do this, they should have their hands chopped off – slowly. Some people think anytime you slap an ‘s’ at the end of the word then you should tack on a tacky apostrophe as well. You shouldn’t. The two most common uses of an apostrophe are with possessions and contractions.

The History Of The Apostrophe

Our apostrophe began to see its use in 16th century English. It was borrowed from the French. They used it (as we should) whenever a word or phrase uses elision, which is when letters are removed from a word or phrase. For example, the French la amour was elided into l‘amour.

The use elision and its accompanying apostrophe in English became accepted and soon common. For example the phrase “of the clock” to refer to the hour of the day was elided with an apostrophe to “o’clock,” as in It is three o’clock in the afternoon. An apostrophe is only used when letters are removed. Keep this understanding in mind and you will never misuse an apostrophe ever again by placing one before the ‘s’ automatically in plurals.

Rules For The Apostrophe

As mentioned earlier, apostrophes may be used with contractions and possessions. One may wonder how they work with these two forms. Contractions are easy to figure out what letters are being elided. Couldn’t is the contraction of could not. Don’t is the contraction of do not. I’ll is the contraction of I will. In couldn’t and don’t it is the ‘o’ in “not” and with I’ll it is the ‘wi’ in will.

Possessives are not as easy to detect. In the older English, possession used the proper noun, usually a name, with a possessive pronoun like his. So to refer to the house that belongs to John, one would say “John his house.” In time the ‘hi’ of his was removed in elision and the apostrophe took the place of the letters. Nowadays we say “John’s house.” It is true that the feminine possessive pronoun is her which has no ‘s,’ but the ’s became standard for possessive elisions regardless of gender just to make things simple.

Since no letters are removed to form a plural, don’t use ’s in forming plural endings of nouns. It makes you look amateurish, especially if you are a creative, technical, or professional writer. While I cringe at the misuse of the apostrophe, there have always been those who didn’t care for it at all. George Bernard Shaw referred to them as uncouth bacilli. How poetic. R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck stated it quite plainly when he said, “We hate all apostrophes. There’s never been a good rock album that’s had an apostrophe in the title.” Five points if you can spot the irony.



Filed under Creative Writing

3 responses to “Catastrophe With The Apostrophe

  1. I don’t love baseball, but I agree with you on apostrophes!

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