After church services most summer Sundays, our little bunch of Margate-by-the-Sea (NJ) choir members (one soprano, one female tenor, two basses, and two choir groupies) goes out for breakfast.
We gather around the shiny black piano after services and begin our conversation.
Well, where share we go today?
Sal’s? Gary’s? Fitzpatick’s? Ozzie’s? Isabella’s, Jon and Patty’s?
Fitzpatrick’s, Sal’s, Ozzie’s, Isabelle’s, and Jon and Patty’s get nixed rapidly. The shoobie crowd (summer visitors to the shore) pack out these places on summer Sunday mornings.
That leaves Gary’s, our favorite offshore breakfast place.
Not only does Gary serve good breakfasts, his quaint, offshore restaurant is far away from the madding beach crowds. And, best of all, Gary knows how to use apostrophes correctly! Five stars for him.
Common Writing Error: Substituting Plurals and Possessives (Apostrophes)
Although it seems like a simple matter to a grammar geek like me, people constantly confuse words that need or don’t need apostrophes. Facebook, Twitter, other social media sites abound with this apostrophe atrocity.
And greengrocers? They thrive on making this common error. But don’t let sign makers or bumper sticker printers off the hook. They help to perpetuate this mistake. Check out this especially egregious example of incorrect apostrophe use.
Most common writing errors lists include the notoriously abused, misused, or totally ignored apostrophe. Blogs dedicated to finding and posting pictures of blatant misuse of apostrophes ridicule this particular writing error. (See Apostrophe Catastrophes and Apostrophe Abuse.) The misuse of the apostrophe is high on the list of a grammar geek’s pet peeves.
Strunk & White, in The Elements of Style, list the possessive apostrophe on nouns as the first item of importance on their list of “Elementary Rules of Usage.” In fact, apostrophes are taught in school at about the third grade and reviewed every school year after that, ad nauseum. (See Are You Smarter Than a Third Grader?)
Yet apostrophes are still frequently misused, much to the horror of Lynn Truss. This author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves (2003) calls apostrophe errors
satanic sprinklings of redundant apostrophes that cause no little gasp of horror or quickening of the pulse…
Her book is about stuff we grammar geeks love but non-geeks and grammar-phobes don’t care about.
Two Questions Solve the Apostrophe Problem
When it comes to apostrophes, ask two questions.
1. Are there more than one? If so, just add -s.
Two or more of the same thing = plural.
Two copies of one noun.
Two aardvarks, three curmudgeons, four geezers, five egomaniacs, six gastroenterologists, seven hyenas, ten apes, eleven orangutans,
…and last, but not least, twelve grammar geeks…
You get the idea. Two or more copies of one noun. Just add -s.
If you can count it, just add -s.
2. Does someone own something? An apostrophe shows ownership, possession, or connection of some sort.
When two distinct nouns have a connection, the first noun is the owner and earns the apostrophe. See Abbey’s Alphabet for a quick review of possessives.)
Gary owns his little breakfast money-maker, so he calls it
Same with Fitzpatrick’s, Sal’s, Ozzie’s, and Isabella’s.
Sal’s Coal Fired Pizza (yes, they serve breakfast and pizza)
Isabella’s Ventnor Café
Here’s Where It Gets Tricky: Possessives with Two Owners
What about restaurants that have two owners and both want their personal names in the restaurant name?
What should Jon and Patty call their restaurant? What should Steve and Cookie call their restaurant? How about Chickie and Pete?
The rule is that only the second owner’s name gets the apostrophe, so the restaurant name should be written like this:
Gary gets his apostrophes right on his kid’s menu as well. Five more stars.
Of course, you will see this rule broken from time to time:
Chickie and Pete couldn’t agree on who got the apostrophe, so they both (incorrectly) claimed one.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to make this error in neon lights!
Instead of going to that crab house next time you want a good breakfast, go to Gary’s. You’ll love his omelets. Or, if you’re not so hungry, have a grilled cheese sandwich from the kid’s menu. And thank Gary for getting his apostrophes right!
What are your English grammar, usage, and punctuation pet peeves?
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This post is one in a series on Writing Quirks. More Writing Quirks can be found on my other blog: Janice Heck