September 06, 2007

Speaking of Punctuation

Mister Bookworm taught me just last week that for words that end in s, you still add apostrophe s in order to make them possessive. Examples:


Apparently, among those whose job it is to make these things right, this is the practice.

Frankly, I find three S's in a row to be hideous and off putting. So, I went and looked it up and it would seem that this is a flexible rule. According to U of Calgary "If the noun is singular and ends in "s," you may form the possessive either by adding apostrophe s or by simply adding the apostrophe. ... The exceptions to this flexible rule are Jesus, Moses, and Zeus, which traditionally form the possessive with just the apostrophe."

But people from Canadia often do things differently. I was always taught growing up to drop the S, but people in the south often do things differently as well.

Other websites contradict our frozen friends to the north.

Many websites I found mentioned that use of the apostrophe S is determined by whether or not the word ends in a Z sound or an S sound. Z's get the apostrophe S and S's get just the apostrophe.

I'm inclined to believe Mister Bookworm over a buncha Canucks, but I still don't like ever seeing three S's in a row.

Of course, now we have another issue: I was always taught that you use an apostrophe when making some things plural, like 1980's and DVD's. According to Mister Bookworm and others, this is incorrect. Mister Bookworm kind of freaked out a little bit when I asked him about this. I had to get the smelling salts and when he came to, he did note that you do write '80s.

Incidentally, the New York Times has been cited by some as misusing apostrophes to make things plural.

The question of making plural letters stumped Mister Bookworm. I like apostrophe S for pluralizing letters. I did it all through this post because I hate the look of "Ss," but one website said:

An apostrophe is also used to form some plurals, especially the plural of letters and digits. Raoul got four A's last term and his sister got four 6's in the ice-skating competition. This is particularly useful when the letter being pluralized is in the lower case: "minding one's p's and q's" or "Don't forget to dot your i's." (In a context in which the plural is clear, apostrophes after upper-case letters are not necessary: "He got four As, two Bs, and three Cs.")

So much ado about such a little mark!

Update: In reading my post, Mister Bookworm has gone into fits. He says that 1980's indicates the possessive. I would argue that when I used it above, I have indicated clearly that it is plural, because I said it's plural. I would actually argue in most cases that the context in which the punctuation is used is vital to understanding what is meant.

Naturally, context doesn't always make things clear, so he said he's going to write on my face with a red pen while I'm asleep.

Update 2: Reader Qwertz provided this hilarious article on the Supreme Court's rulings on the apostrophe issue.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 6, 2007 04:12 PM | TrackBack

Hi again. Sorry. I've got one for this, too.

This article, on this subject, is really very funny if you follow the personalities of Supreme Court Justices.

Posted by: Qwertz at September 6, 2007 04:34 PM

Have you read Eats, Shoots, and Leaves? It's a very funny little book about grammar and punctuation. I've long thought there has been some kind of apostrophe conspiracy in this country, as they seem to take the brunt of punctuation abuse, thrown about without regard for the safety and welfare of innocent bystanders. The author of the aforementioned book agrees with me.

Anyway, think you'd like that book, and Mister Bookworm, too. I was taught to drop the extra 's' from words like boss's, but then again, I went to Catholic school and they do things a bit differently there, too. Aesthetically, I prefer 1980s to 1980's, but I was taught to use the apostrophe.

Posted by: Rational Jenn at September 6, 2007 11:59 PM

You always seem to take the most mundane things and make them colourful and funny. Don'cha'know? Keep up the good work, eh?

Posted by: Tiberius at September 7, 2007 08:41 PM
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