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AAA – Avoid Apostrophe Atrocities – Go to Gary’s for Breakfast

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.

Janice Heck, photo of Gary's Restaurant

Gary owns the restaurant so it is called Gary’s Restaurant, or just Gary’s for short.

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.

apostrophe abuse found by Tina in Naples, FL. Posted on Apostropheatrocitiesdotcom

Apostrophe abuse found by Tina in Naples, Florida. Posted on Apostrophe Atrocities dot com

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

Gary’s Restaurant.

Same with Fitzpatrick’s, Sal’s, Ozzie’s, and Isabella’s.

Fitzpatrick’s Deli
Sal’s Coal Fired Pizza (yes, they serve breakfast and pizza)
Ozzie’s Luncheonette
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:

Jon and Patty’s Coffee Bar and Bistro
Steve and Cookie’s (Restaurant) By the Bay

Gary gets his apostrophes right on his kid’s menu as well. Five more stars.

Menu with apostrophes. Photo, Janice Heck

Of course, you will see this rule broken from time to time:

 Chickie’s and Pete’s Crab House and Sports Bar

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!

Summer sunday-GAry's 017 (2)

 

Your Turn:

What are your English grammar, usage, and punctuation pet peeves?

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If you are a grammar geek, or just a person who wants to be sure that you use the best grammar and punctuation in all writing situations, then consider following this blog. Just click on the link on the sidebar to the left of this post. Thanks.

This post is one in a series on Writing Quirks. More Writing Quirks can be found on my other blog: Janice Heck

Graphic by Janice Heck

 

Serial Commas and Compulsive Behavior

Academics and journalists duke it out when it comes to using serial commas in sentences.

Serial commas (aka the Oxford comma and the Harvard Comma)

…come before conjunctions (most often before and, or)

…when used in a series (or list) of three or more words, phrases, or clauses in sentences.

Commas in series, graphic

What are the colors in the American flag? The academics write it this way:

The American flag is red, white, and blue.       (with serial comma)

American flag

The journalists (along with the Brits and Aussies) favor this writing:

The British flag is red, white and blue.       (without serial comma)

British flag

The Battleground

Turns out there is a long history of wordy disputes between these two deeply-rooted warring camps.  Lynn Truss, a Brit and author of TrussEats, Shoots & Leaves, traces the conflict back hundreds of years and advises,

Never make the mistake of getting between these two groups, especially when the beer is flowing.

Trouble raises its ugly head when an editor from each group reads the same manuscript. The comma advocate will tsk-tsk through the writer’s masterpiece compulsively jabbing commas before the conjunction where they see a series of words, phrases, or clauses in sentences. The opposing editor, equally vociferous in his tsk-tsking, goes through the manuscript slashing out the serial commas that the comma advocate so rambunctiously inserted into the manuscript.

What’s a writer to do? Which warring faction should you join? Where will you throw your lance?

The AcademicsChicago Manual of Style

The academics have some pretty hefty backers sitting in their bleachers:  The Chicago Manual of Style (2010), the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2009), Fowler’s Modern English Usage (2004), Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (2000), and Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009) all favor the serial comma

Garner puts it this way:

…virtually all writing authorities outside that field [journalism] recommend keeping it [the serial comma].

Though widely criticized for their simplistic approach to writing style and usage, Strunk and White post this as their number 2 ruleStrunk and White in The Elements of Style, 4th edition (2000).

In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last. Thus write:  red, white, and blue…

Others join the fray: Roy Peter Clark in his The Glamour of Grammar (2010) says this:Clark, Glamour of Grammar

…when it comes to the serial commas, sometimes called the Oxford comma, the literary folks have it right, and the journalists have it wrong. The reader needs that final comma before and in a series. I need it.

casagrande4, sentencesTo seal the deal, June Casagrande, author of It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences, (2010) says:

fight to the death (or at least to the pain) for the serial comma.

The Journalists, Brits, and Aussies

Two American heavies weigh in on this serial comma issue on the side of the journalists: The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (2002) and The Associated Press Stylebook (2010).

The Associated Press Stylebook is the authority on this subject for journalists. Here’s what it has to say:

Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series.

The flag is red, white and blue.

Newspapers fight to keep that extra comma out of their text lines because they, well, take up space. They do allow for adding the comma when their might be some ambiguity. Ambiguous advice, don’t you think?

Comma Middle Ground

Lynn Truss heads for the quieter and saner middle ground in this fierce rivalry:

One shouldn’t be too rigid about the Oxford comma. Sometimes the sentence is improved by including it; sometimes it isn’t.

Truss does admit that the

comma-shaped shark fin ominously slicing through the waves…is a lot more dangerous than its exclusive, ivory-tower moniker might suggest.

June Casagrande says in Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies (2006),Casagrande, Grammar Snobs

Most people don’t know [how to use commas], so they wing it.

In fact, most people dutifully (and ignorantly) follow the old misguided adage,

Put a comma in wherever you pause to take a breath.

Pity those poor non-fluent, word-by-word, mouth-breathing readers who pause after each word as they read!

So there you have it: two opposing camps (some dodging the arrows in the comma middle ground) with strong arguments (they think) for their own staunch positions.

What’s a writer to do?

Of course, you will find all three approaches to using the serial comma as you read books, newspaper articles, and blog posts. But what should a writer do?

Simple: If you write to earn money, follow the style sheet put out by the organization that you write for.

But truth be told, I hang out with the comma advocates. I love the serial comma, and I add them physically or mentally to everything I read. I advise you to do the same. That will save me a lot of tsk-tsking when I edit your manuscript.

Finally, just remember this: If you write to your mother, just wing it. She won’t care if you have that comma in her letter or not, just write the letter. But please, please stop that mouth-breathing. It’s annoying.

 

Coming Soon…

Serial Commas, Parallel Structure, and Zombies for Hire

Seial Commas and the Ghostly And

 

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