February 18, 2015

Apostrophes: Grammar & Editing Tips

Isn’t it amazing how important the smallest of punctuation marks can be? 

Consider the apostrophe--small in stature, a simple ’, but huge in importance. After all, an apostrophe either takes the place of missing letters or assigns ownership. It is also used to show multiple letters, such as the student received many A’s on her report card. More on that in a moment.

If Charlie has a dog, it’s Charlie’s dog. The only somewhat confusing aspect to making names possessive… names that end in s. According to AP Style, the newest consensus is to leave off the additional ’s. So it would be Charles’ dog and not Charles’s. However, it is not incorrect to say Charles’s, and that style is favored by Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, although to me it is quite clunky.

In the case of biblical references, everyone seems to agree—Jesus’ and Moses’ is the way to go.

Interestingly, this was a debated enough issue that the Arkansas House of Representatives introduced a bill to clarify the state’s possessive, known as the Arkansas’s Apostrophe Act.

And of course there is the exception of it’s. Since it’s is it is, the possessive of it is its, no apostrophe.

Back to the student that received many A’s on her report card. The A is not A is and it’s not possessive, so why the apostrophe? Because otherwise it is the word As (same problem for the letters I and U which would become Is and Us without an apostrophe).

How big of a deal can a misplaced or missed apostrophe really be?

Let me give you a quick example…

The girls decision meant life would never be the same.

In a story, it’s important for the reader to know if that sentence should read girl’s or girls’ (one girl or multiple girls). Writers don’t want their readers scratching their head for too long, because then readers disconnect from the story. Never a good thing.

How can anybody remember all these rules, especially ones that the grammar experts disagree on? 

That’s just one of the reasons a good editor is important. They do the research and give you their advice. Just as importantly, they make sure it is consistent throughout your work. Your readers will thank you for it.


I originally published this post on the Indie Books Gone Wild website here.  

Another great graphic...

Is there an editing/grammar issue that's always caused you trouble? If so, share it in the comments so I can feature it in a future post. 

1 comment:

Jo Michaels said...

Awesome tips. Seems I may have seen this somewhere before... :P hehe!

I just adore you.

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