Apostrophe catastrophe-part 1

If you think my title is an exaggeration, think again. Here are two real-life examples I witnessed recently:

We help British Columbian’s.
Hope its your bird.

The apostrophe must be the most abused piece of punctuation so I’m going to devote two posts to it. Today we’ll talk about plurals and its versus it’s.

Plurals

We can be very quick: to make something plural, you never use an apostrophe and s—not even if it’s a proper noun (that is, a name).

Here are some examples:

British Columbians (as in ‘we help British Columbians’)
Josiahs (as in ‘there are three Josiahs in our church’)
the Kievits (as in ‘the Kievits are late again’)

The words that tend to trip people up are ones ending in the letter o. Do you know the plurals of these?

tomato
rodeo
potato
photo
tuxedo
zero
hero
portfolio

Here are the answers: tomatoes, rodeos, potatoes, photos, tuxedos/tuxedoes, zeros/zeroes, heroes, portfolios.

The general rule is that if there’s a vowel before the o, add -s. Otherwise, it’s usually safe to add -es. But, of course, there are plenty of exceptions, so check a dictionary to be sure.

But whatever you do, don’t ever add an apostrophe and s to make a word plural. You can’t eat tomato’s or upload photo’s.

Its or it’s

This is doubtlessly the most confused pair of words in the English language.

Just remember this simple rule: if you can replace the word with it is or it has, use it’s; otherwise use its.

It’s a nice day. (It is a nice day.)
Its feathers are white.
It’s been ages since we last talked. (It has been ages since we last talked.)
Do you know its owner?

Next time we’ll continue this discussion by looking at possessives.

In the meantime, watch your apostrophes. We don’t want to see another apostrophe catastrophe!

Do you have an example of an apostrophe violation you’ve come across? Leave me a comment.

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

(Image at top courtesy of sottchan.)

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2 Comments

  1. Andy F.

     /  May 9, 2012

    Dirk,
    Couple of things. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that it has become acceptable to write a number as a numeral after ten (rather than one hundred), but don’t remember which style guide that may have been from. Also, could you please advise about how to write the plural of a number? Current popular usage seems to favor an apostrophe, even when there is no possession (e.g. in the 1980’s vs. 1980s; How many 20’s vs. 20s [as in twenty-dollar bills] do you have in your wallet?).

    Reply
    • Hi Andy,

      I’ll start with your second question first.

      This is what the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), 16th ed. says (in 9.54, “Plural numbers”):

      “Numerals form their plurals by adding s. No apostrophe is needed.”

      It gives these examples:

      Among the scores were two 240s and three 238s.
      Jazz forms that were developed in the 1920s became popular in the 1930s.

      The Gregg Reference Manual (GRM) agrees:

      “Numbers expressed in figures are pluralized by the addition of s alone.” (par. 624)

      It gives these examples: in the 1990s, in the 90s (temperature), in the ’90s (decade).

      Unfortunately, I don’t see an example specifically with money.

      As for spelling out numbers, publishers may have their own guidelines of course. GRM isn’t specific about when to write out numerals.

      Dirk

      Reply

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