Grammar Gremlins: About Apostrophes

The humble apostrophe has multiple missions, which may be why the poor thing suffers such frequent misuse. It forms possessives, contractions, and, in special cases, plurals.


gremlin-2The most common apostrophe catastrophe is probably the confusion between its (a possessive: the cat is chasing its tail) and it’s (the contraction of it is). This one is a major source of typos and misprints, and always bears checking. If you can substitute it is, you need that apostrophe!


Its/it’s isn’t the only construction of its (possessive!) type, but it’s (contraction!) the easiest one to misuse. Other pronouns follow the same pattern, with your the possessive and you’re the contraction, or their (possessive) and they’re (contraction), but at least those aren’t spelled exactly (but for the apostrophe) the same. (There, there, says Snoopy, patting Woodstock on the head.)


The Gremlins recently received a request (always welcome, by the way), asking, “Which is correct, each other’s or each others’?” The important word here is each, which is singular by definition and only modifies singular nouns. We would never say “each boys” or “each mice,” and therefore “each other” is also singular, and its possessive is “each other’s.” So, the critique partners (plural) read each other’s (singular) manuscripts.


One apostrophe catastrophe that is all too common (and to me is a written equivalent of scratching a blackboard) involves both plurals and possessives, specifically the plural possessive form of proper names.


The Gremlins are going to a party given by a family named Gormley. They are going to the Gormleys’ house (plural possessive). NOT the Gormley’s house. Not ever. Not even if gremlin-3Gustaf Gormley lives there alone. In that case, our party-going Gremlins are headed for Gormley’s house, or Gustaf’s house, but their host is NOT “the Gormley,” (unless perhaps he’s the lost heir to some forgotten Scottish clan, but that’s another story altogether, and pretty unlikely if he’s hanging out with the Gremlins). And if the name ends in “s”, add “es” before the apostrophe (the Gremlin gathering has moved to the Joneses’ house).


Stayed tuned; the Gremlins will watch out for more apostrophe problems and report back with their findings.


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