From what I see, some of y’all didn’t pay proper attention to your lessons in school. Or maybe the schoolmarm wasn’t doing her job — too busy daydreaming about some young man, perhaps, to care about the goings-on in her one-room schoolhouse.
In any case, from where I sit here in my rockin’ chair, there’s a liberal abundance of improper grammar being bandied about. Punctuation and syntax and such. The way you people talk and write, you’d think you was just makin’ up the rules as you go. It’s been gratin’ on my nerves, I tell ya. And since Little Miss Y who owns this space has been gettin’ lazy and not postin’ regular these days, I persuaded her to give me a chance to give you a lesson every now and then.
Not that you’ll likely pay any more heed to me than you did to your teachers in school. But for anyone out there in cyberville that might care a whit, I aim to teach ya a thing or two about proper writin’.
One of my biggest peeves has to do with apostrophes. I know y’all know what them little things is, ’cause you’re always using ’em. Problem is, you usually use ’em wrong. So pay attention, now, and you’ll learn something useful.
An apostrophe’s like a comma filled with helium that floats up to the ceiling and sticks there. See the little bug levitating between the e and the s in the word apostrophe’s at the beginning of this paragraph? That’s what I’m talking about. It’s got its uses, but nothing to do with birthday parties. Because parties is a plural, and you don’t need no apostrophe for that. None of this party’s nonsense. When you’ve got more than one of something, you just add an s and don’t need no apostrophe.
Okay, okay, sometimes it’s not as easy as just adding an s. Like with parties, sometimes you have to change a y to i before adding es. But that’s not what I’m talkin’ about today. We’re discussing apostrophes, not plurals. And those two just don’t mix. That’s Rule #1: Don’t use an apostrophe to make a plural.
So what do you use it for? Most often, for possessives. Like as in, Because I have received no reply from the party’s invitees, I have no idea how many to plan for. So that’s another rule, which I’ll call Rule #1a: Always return RSVPs. It’s just common courtesy.
And speaking of RSVPs, take note that the plural of that does not have an apostrophe. I’ll tell you why: because that’s Rule #1. Notwithstanding, that rule has an exception. It’s a rare one, but if you want to call yourself edjacated, you need to know this: when making an abbreviation plural, and said abbreviation uses lowercase letters (as opposed to uppercase, as in the RSVP example above) — or, if it has one or more interior periods (like, for instance, Ph.D.) — then you do use an apostrophe to make the plural. Examples: Ph.D’s or x’s and y’s. This is a little obscure, but you’d be y’s to make note of it. So let’s call this Rule #1b: Ys Words says you should be y’s about this if you hope to earn any Ph.D’s.
But let us move on to Rule #2: An apostrophe is a possessive’s best friend. Example: I got this straight from the horse’s mouth. (Because I’m as old as Grandfather English, who invented it all in the first place.)
Now, there are a few wrinkles to this. In fact, there are lots of wrinkles in grammar rules, which is why Granny Grammar’s face (note the apostrophe) looks the way it does. We’ll talk about all those exceptions another time. For now, we’re just touching the high points.
Note the use of the apostrophe in the word we’re in the last sentence. That’s another use for that little helium-filled comma: for contractions. That is, when you leave out letters because you don’t pronounce them. As in we’re (we are), that’s (that is) don’t (do not) we’ll (we will), y’all (you all), and so forth. This includes when you’re (you are) writing dialog where edjacated folk like me are leavin’ (leaving) off the g in ing words. So let’s (let us) call this Rule #3: Use an apostrophe to hide missing letters.
I s’pose all this is making y’all a little cross-eyed. That’s ’cause y’all didn’t pay close enough attention in school. (Oooh, look at all those pretty little apostrophes!) If you had, it would make complete sense to you and you’d be able to see straight. But to prevent your getting a headache from all that eye-crossing, I’ll just give you one more rule to learn. But learn it well, because if I catch you breaking it, I’ll rap your knuckles but good.
Rule #4 involves pronouns. These, contrary to popular opinion, are not highly paid professional nouns (though they are very useful and should get paid top dollar). They are stand-ins for nouns. Handy friends like it, her, they, and your. When you make these little dears possessive, you don’t use an apostrophe. Just an s. As in, its or hers or yours. Now, I will admit that the King James translators used apostrophes in this situation. But that was in 1611. Nowadays, it’s not kosher.
This is especially important where the word it is concerned. It’s so important, in fact, that I’m making it Rule #4: It’s is a contraction for it is. When you want to talk about the house next door and its landscaping, its has no apostrophe. Remember that. Failing to obey Rule #4 is a good way to get hurt, and hurt bad. Granny Grammar will knock you senseless. Except, of course, if you use it’s as a possessive, you’re already senseless.
So to recap, here the rules for today. Study them, memorize them, be able to recite them frontward and backward and use them properly. Because there will be a test:
Rule #1: Don’t use an apostrophe to make a plural.
Rule #1a: Always return RSVPs.
Rule #1b: Ys Words says you should be y’s about this if you hope to earn any Ph.D’s.
Rule #2: An apostrophe is a possessive’s best friend.
Rule #3: Use an apostrophe to hide missing letters.
Rule #4: It’s is a contraction for it is.
Granny Grammar hath spoken.