The Lady Speaks

Language Policing

I’m petty enough to be driven nuts by this stuff and – I admit it – my estimation of a persons intelligence drops in direct proportion to their ability to spell and punctuate correctly.

I also admit that I had several fine English teachers during high school who drilled proper spelling, proper use of homonyms, and proper punctuation into me. (Although, come to think of it, I still don’t know what a past participle is.)

As I wander the blogosphere and the internet in general, I am amazed by the number of so-called educated people who can’t figure out if their they’re yet, or who are often stricken by apostrophe madnes’s.

So, here’s a quick primer on the top three – in my opinion – misuses and abuses of the English language in composition:

Are we their yet?

They’re – contraction of “they are” – use this when you’re [see below] talking about people doing something.

Examples: They’re going to the store. They’re starting a group blog.

Their – possessive, belongs to a more than one – ie: husband and wife, a family, friends, etc.

Examples: Their car broke down. Their blog is quite informative.

There – place – indicates location.

Examples: They’re going there to get their car. Their blog can be found at the link there.

Bonus hint: If the car belongs to them, then it is theirs. Not their’s.

Your going now?

You’re – contraction of “you are” – use this when a person is taking action of some sort.

Example: You’re going to get your car? You’re going to start a blog?

Your – indicates possession – use this when something belongs to a person.

Example: Your dog ate my cat. Your blog is very good.

Bonus hint: If it belongs to you, it is yours. Not your’s.

The peril’s of random apostrophes

Too many people apparently didn’t learn the rules about proper apostrophe use. So they’re showing up anywhere and everywhere they choose. Most notably in a particular “A-list” blog’s headlines.

Apostrophes indicate ownership and contraction. If you are contracting with “is” or “has” then use the “apostrophe-s.” (ie: Bill’s going to the store. Sally’s already left for work.)

However – and this is when apostrophes go wild – If something belongs to someone or several someones, use an apostrophe to indicate ownership. If the subject is simply more than one – ie: plural – do not use the apostrophe.

1. If the noun is singular and possessive, you add “apostrophe-s.”

Examples: The Farmer boy’s dog ate Bill’s cat. The fire company’s chicken barbeque was held yesterday at Wal-mart’s parking lot.

The dog belongs to the Farmer boy, and the cat belongs to Bill. The barbeque belongs to the fire company, and the parking lot belongs to Wal-mart.

2. If a noun is plural, ends in “s,” but there is no possession to show, no apostrophe is needed.

Example: The Farmers will be attending the Fair. The Elks meet monthly.

That A-list blog I spoke of earlier likes to write “the Clinton’s,” which is, of course, wrong because they are usually referring to the couple. Which would make it plural, non-possessive. “The Clintons.”

The last example is the subject of confusion and controversy. Some say you must add the “apostrophe-s” to all names unless you are writing about an historic or famous person. (Jesus, Moses, Diogenes, etc.)

I disagree for three reasons: First, this is not what I was taught, and second, because I think skipping the “apostrophe-s” and using a simple apostrophe looks cleaner on the page. Third, we don’t use “Farmers’s” or “cheerleaders’s” when we speak. (Farmerszz? Cheerleaderszz?)

3. If the noun is plural and/or a proper noun which ends in “s,” and it’s possessive, the the apostrophe goes at the end of the word with no following “s.”

Examples: The Farmers’ dog ate a cat. The cheerleaders’ bake sale was yesterday.

The dog belongs to the Farmers. The bake sale belongs to the cheerleaders.

This has been your quick and easy English lesson for the year. If you’d like to learn more – or you’ve often misused the three examples above, go read: 46 Ways to Embarrass Yourself in Writing, 5 Embarrassing Grammatical Mistakes, or Easy Mistakes: Commonly Misspelled Words.


June 16, 2008 - Posted by | Just For Fun, Language


  1. I can has cheezburger?

    I hate punctuation errors too!

    Comment by CyclObama | June 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. I’m terrible with punctuation. I tend to sprinkle commas all over the place and I probably never use a semi-colon correctly. But I’ve got the basics of period, exclamation, and question mark!

    Comment by PA_Lady | June 16, 2008 | Reply

  3. Thank you.
    Thank you.
    Thank you.
    I truly believe we must respect our language.
    So, now would you consider a spelling primer.
    For example:
    Through not Thru
    Biscuit not Bisquit
    Night not Nite
    Z is not an acceptable substitute for S
    Thank you, again.

    Comment by Mom | June 16, 2008 | Reply

  4. It seems appropriate to use your language blog for this comment. Lanuage is a tool, you can heal or hurt with it.
    You can be its master, or it can control you. I learned this from the greatest…
    George Carlin died last night.
    He (in my estimation) was the most intelligent, and funniest, man ever to grace a stage.
    He showed us the absurd, silly, inane, and insane ways we use our words…such as the 7 words you can not use on T.V.
    It is not language, but our use of it, our mores, our own belief system, that makes words good or bad. He did not like the language police, but he loved the language.
    I will miss him. Millions will miss him, even those who objected to his humor, will remember him.
    Truly he was a First Amendment Hero.
    I am sure he is in a special place in Heaven, because as irreverent as he could be, he always followed the commandment to Love. It seems in these days, God must have needed a good laugh.
    Goodbye, Mr Carlin.
    There will never be another like you.

    Comment by Mom | June 23, 2008 | Reply

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