Lately, I have seen a flurry of misplaced apostrophes. People who I really think should know better just love to insert apostrophes where they don’t belong.
Most recently, an industry blogger I highly respect wrote about degrading images (as in deteriorating, legacy media). He joked that an ad could read:
“Your precious memory’s, your videos and photographs, are subject to the heartless ravages of time.”
Uh, no. That should be “memories.” Nothing is possessed by a memory in this sentence.
Just three weeks earlier the same blogger referred to a meeting of state regulators about “all thing’s workers’ comp.” Again, nothing is possessing workers’ comp. “All” does need to be followed by a plural ending in “s,” but adding an apostrophe changes the word to a possessive singular. (Still with me here?)
Apostrophe misuse has a long, dishonorable history, so it’s not unusual to find mistakes by the most expert communicators. An online search for “apostrophe mistakes” brings up lots of commercial signs that seem to prove Americans never saw a plural they didn’t think needed an apostrophe:
- Sign’s & Lettering
- CD’s & DVD’s
- No Vehicle’s
No, no, and no.
On the Other Hand
Just to be contrary, when it comes to using contractions that do require apostrophes, we suddenly become reluctant to include them:
- Your (possessive) instead of You’re (You are)
- Lets instead of Let’s (a contraction of let us, e.g., let us move ahead)
- Whose or, even worse, whos (not a word), instead of who’s (who is).
- Mixing up their or there for they’re
A Musical Example of Misplaced Apostrophes
Just because there’s an “s” at the end of that noun doesn’t mean you should insert an apostrophe. If there’s two or more of whatever the word is, the “s” signals that you’re dealing with a plural. If there’s just one and the next word or phrase is owned by the one thing, then, yes, there’s an apostrophe before the “s.” If there are two or more and they are possessive, then the apostrophe (usually) comes after the “s.”
Let’s say you were handling a case where noxious fumes pervaded an indoor stadium hosting a school band competition.
- Sickness disabled the directors of many bands (not director’s, not band’s).
- One band: the band’s director became sick.
- Multiple bands: the bands’ directors became sick.
Don’t count on technology to save your butterscotch. Unfortunately, you can’t count on the Spelling & Grammar checker in Word to catch these errors, though more sophisticated programs such as Grammarly or Hemingway may. Stay vigilant about apostrophe mistakes, particularly when you write plurals or possessives.
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