APOSTROPHE USAGE EXPLAINED
Copyright 2004, Michael LaRocca
According to one of my previous articles, whenever a Southerner
says “Y’all watch this,” get out of the way because those are
probably the last words he will ever say.
Well, I am a Southerner. I used to live in the southern US, but
I moved to south China. And, I’m about to say the magic words:
Y’all watch this.
The word is “week.” If I want to talk about more than one week,
like I did near the end of the previous article, I’ll use weeks.
No apostrophe. If I want to talk about something belonging to a
week, such as “last week’s newsletter,” I’ll use an apostrophe.
That’s the rule. If it’s a noun, s makes it plural and
apostrophe-s makes it possessive. It’s just that simple.
If I were still in the US, and I wanted one of those fancy
carved signs that are so common on southern lawns, it would not
read “The LaRocca’s.” The LaRocca’s what? His lawn? His sign?
That apostrophe makes it singular possessive, so The LaRocca is
surely claiming ownership of something. If that was not his
intent, and he whacked in an apostrophe anyway, he’s an idiot.
What about plural possessive? Is it “the LaRoccas’ house” or
“the LaRoccas’s house?” Well, it’s neither, since my wife isn’t
a LaRocca and we don’t own a house. But for the sake of this
article, pretend she is and we do.
In ON WRITING, Stephen King swears it’s LaRoccas’s. When I was a
student, my teachers swore it was LaRoccas’. As an editor, I’ve
heard the first was US standard and the second was UK standard.
And the answer is, I don’t care. Just be consistent.
I once met an editor who said that the spelling has something
to do with the pronunciation. She’s an idiot. Spelling isn’t
100% pronunciation. It’s history. I’ll say LaRoccas-zz whether
it’s LaRoccas’ or LaRoccas’s. So will you.
Jump up five paragraphs and read the seventh word. Noun. Note
that I didn’t write pronoun. Just for fun, the rule for pronouns
and apostrophes is completely different, as I noted in my Common
Writing Mistakes article. I still get email praising that one,
so let me repeat a little bit of it.
It’s is a contraction for “it is” and its is possessive. Who’s
is a contraction for “who is” and whose is possessive. You’re is
a contraction for “you are” and your is possessive. They’re is a
contraction for “they are,” there is a place, their is
possessive. There’s is a contraction for “there is” and theirs
If you’ve been paying attention to the above examples, you’ve
noticed that possessive pronouns never use apostrophes. Its,
whose, your, yours, their, theirs…
And there you have it. Apostrophe usage explained.
Michael LaRocca’s website at http://freereads.topcities.com was
chosen by WRITER’S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best Websites For
Writers in 2001 and 2002. He published four novels in 2002 and has
two more scheduled for publication in 2004. He also works as an
editor for an e-publisher. He teaches English at a university in
Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, China, and publishes the free weekly
newsletter Mad About Books.