Chris Gardner

The joys of self-publishing.


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Its and the Decorative Apostrophe

‘Its’ is a possessive pronoun, just as ‘his’ and ‘hers’ are.  If you add an apostrophe to its it is no longer a possessive pronoun. It’s means it is or it has.  Always. Adding an apostrophe to its is no different to adding an apostrophe to any other pronoun. Apostrophes are always there for a practical reason, not to decorate the page. Many people laugh at the ‘grocer’s apostrophe’, which is frequently seen on signs at the front of all types of stores but sometimes even on major signs by professional sign writers. I’m talking about the use of apostrophes seemingly thrown in at random, usually before an ‘s’ at the end of a word. Most readers and writers know better than that but there are very many who don’t get their ‘its’ right!

While I’m ranting about apostrophes and pronouns I’d better give ‘their’ a mention. Their is a possessive pronoun too and is probably next in line for causing the maximum error rate. They’re means they are. Always. Not a possessive pronoun. There means not here, but over there, and I’m including the reference to ‘here’ because the similarity makes it an easy one to remember. If you add ‘t’ to ‘here’ it becomes ‘there’, right? Easy.

I’m not sure about the veracity of this, but if a university lecturer is a good enough source–an apostrophe always takes the place of something else; it indicates something is missing. Once upon a time people spoke and wrote English quite differently and they would say, or write, ‘the dog, his bone’, rather than ‘the dog’s bone,’ as we do now. The apostrophe was introduced in place of ‘his’ in this example. If we move the apostrophe across, as in ‘the dogs’ bone’, we know there’s more than one dog sharing the bone. Of course when using a pronoun there’s no need for the apostrophe because it makes no sense to say ‘It, its bone’ or ‘Him, his bone.’

That’s the end of my rant for the day–please feel free to pass this on. It’s a small thing, an apostrophe, but whether you’re a signwriter, a book writer or just have a facebook account, please don’t use the poor little misunderstood mark to decorate your page.

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Is it time to drop the apostrophe?

I don’t know if this is a problem everywhere or just in Australia, so do let me know. It’s become a major annoyance (okay, probably only to people like me–grumpy old women) how much the apostrophe is misused. It’s quite clear that there are many people out there who don’t actually know what it’s for! They just seem to throw it in anywhere. It’s randomly stuck in before any old ‘s’ in signs out the front of fruit shops: tomatoe’s, banana’s etc. Even professional sign writers sometimes abuse the poor little apostrophe like that at times.

I often use the text option while watching TV because my hearing’s not great and I don’t expect good grammar or spelling with that but when someone has paid for an ad which includes huge letters across the screen you would think someone would make sure the spelling and grammar are okay first, wouldn’t you?  Perhaps they use a good old computer spellcheck–we all know how effective that is, don’t we?

Don’t get me wrong–I love spellcheck–I’m shocking at typos; my fingers seem to work independently of my brain, but it’s the first stage of editing, not the last and certainly not the one and only. Words such as who’s and whose and its’, it’s and its are not always picked up by computers.

So is it time to give up? Has our education system totally failed our kids who now think ‘should’ve’ is ‘should of’ and have no idea of the purpose of an apostrophe? Should we just stop using it altogether? Or should we somehow get the message out there that the apostrophe does have a purpose? An apostrophe takes the place of one or more missing letters. Who’s means who is and it’s means it is. There is no apostrophe in the possessive form of ‘its’, any more than in ‘his’ or ‘hers’.

One of the more memorable things I learnt in my literary classes at university was that the apostrophe does, indeed, always indicate missing letters, even in the case of the possessive. The professor told us that many years ago people would say: The dog his bone, or Adam his apple and that this evolved into The dog’s bone, Adam’s apple etc.

We could take to the streets with placards–should they say ‘Rid the world of the apostrophe!’ or should they say ‘Stop abusing the apostrophe?’ My frustrations went into a little ebook, which is free for everyone at Smashwords, What Did You Say? It could be subtitled ‘Words of Wisdom from a Grumpy Old Woman’.