Because I cannot stop global warming

            In the fall of 2001, I taught back-to-back Freshman Comp classes, keeping me pretty much out of contact with the outside world from 8:00 to 11:00 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  As a graduate student, my job was to teach 44 reluctant eighteen-year-olds how to express a few coherent thoughts and perhaps to occasionally make a persuasive argument.

            One Tuesday at 9:25, as one class shuffled out and the next shuffled in, one young man remarked to his classmates, “Did you hear that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center?”  Like so many others that morning, we all pictured a little plane piloted by a flight student with a tragically bad sense of direction.  Students handed forward the papers that were do, and we proceeded with the day’s lesson on paragraphing.

            An hour and forty-five minutes later, I grumbled to myself as I rifled through the department teaching supply cabinet.  “Are you OK?” a fellow grad student asked as she walked past with a professor.

            “I can’t find any chalk around here,” I complained, and they both shot me disgusted looks before moving on.  Then the grad student turned back, suddenly realizing something.

            “Have you heard what happened?” she asked. 

            And that was how I heard.  I ran up three flights of stairs to my office and brought up my email, which was already flooded with messages from friends in New York, all of which said the same basic thing: “I am alive.”

            As the morning lapsed into afternoon, I could only spend so long staring at or refreshing my email.  Eventually, I realized I had to occupy my mind with something.  And so I began to grade papers.

            All that evening and the following day, I graded one set of papers.  I did it with passion and a thoroughness no student papers had heretofore seen.  The sky was falling, but I would make all well with the world by making damned sure these kids knew how to write a topic sentence.

            In that spirit, and because I cannot do a damned thing about the fact that the stock market has gotten off its Prozac, retirees may suddenly find they need to return to work, people are losing their homes, and my children are likely to find themselves in a world war over water, I offer the following lesson in apostrophe usage.

            With regular nouns, if you wish to indicate more than one, all you need to do is add an S.  For example: “Many stores are going out of business.”  Stores is plural, not possessive, and does not require an apostrophe.

            If, however, you wish to indicate possession, you will need one of those nifty little doohickies that hang between an S and the rest of the word.  For example: “The woman’s portfolio has lost half of its value.”  As the unfortunate woman owns the portfolio, we indicate ownership with apostrophe + S.  (The lone exception is “its,” which gets an apostrophe only to indicate the contraction of “it is.”)  This formula works with both singular nouns and irregular plurals, such as: “The people’s dismay at discovering that there is such a thing as global warming…”

            Should you wish to indicate both plural and possessive with a regular noun, you will need to move that snazzy little apostrophe to after the S.  For example: “In my sons’ time, we will likely face a global food and water crisis.”  I have two sons, yet I also wish to indicate their time, so the apostrophe goes after the S, showing that the S is doing double-duty.

            Should you have any questions about this relatively simple punctuation mark, please email me instead of making up your own grammar.  Seriously.  I am tired of signs indicating that on Tuesdays the bar has “Two margarita’s for the price of one.”  The sky is falling here, people, and we need to prop it up one apostrophe at a time.

            And while we’re at it, “a lot” is two words.

28 responses to “Because I cannot stop global warming

  1. No kidding!

    And, if I may add to this, it’s LOSE – as in, “I need to lose weight.” Not LOOSE – as in, “These pants are loose.”

    Absolutely, positively, my number one pet peeve with the ‘net nowadays. It drives me batty!!

  2. I think I am good with apostrophes, although I sometimes try to make a lot into one word. But, colons and semicolons and commas, that is where I get stuck. I know the rules, but end up reverting to commas, because the others just never look right to me.

  3. Oh god! First you had me tearing up and then giggling and then feeling infinitely sad. What will our world become? My greatest fear is war too, though not many people are even thinking about that. But at least we will know how to use apostrophes, dammit!

  4. em, this is brilliant. this is a terrific post.

  5. Oh, thank you for putting this out there. It made me smile today, and I needed to.

    While we’re on the subject, and since I have no big ideas for saving the world either, can I please vent one time about my personal pet peeve?

    People – the word “your” indicates possession, as in “your house” or “your child”. The proper spelling when one is describing someone personally is the contraction “you’re”, meaning “you are”, as in “you’re wearing a yellow hat” or “you’re wrong”. Please, please make a note of this, because I am ever so tired of reading sentences like “your so sweet” from everyone over the age of 8. Thank you.

  6. Just yesterday, I was telling some high school students that most grown ups can’t even get “there, their and they’re” right, so yes, they did need to practice it one more time.

    We all do what we can. 🙂

  7. But Emily, if you succeed in this endeavor, it will threaten the future of the blog Apostrophe Abuse!

  8. The sky is falling here, and we need to prop it up with an apostrophe.

    That is one great line.

    So, I have a question. A proper single noun ending in “s.” I think I’m correct in saying S’ , rather than S’S, but I’m not sure. Please educate me.

    Also, I do something similar to this. When everything else is beyond my control, I bake. Not to have something to eat, but to have something I can control. If I mix eggs and sugar and butter and flour, I will always, every time, forever, make a cake. The stability comforts me.

    Of course it does nothing good for my hips, but oh well.

  9. I’m with Coco. It’s the your/you’re misusers who are the real issue here. Those people need to be stopped.

  10. I understand this. As a former copy editor there are things that make me batty. Like “towards” instead of the proper “toward.”

  11. We celebrated National Punctuation Day a few weeks ago. Answers to these and other questions can be found at:

  12. Yes. Might I also add that “irregardless” is not a word?

  13. were the students’ papers “do” or ” due?”

  14. as a fellow former comp teacher, part of me thinks global warming might be easier to fix than apostrophe abuse.

    i saw someone write “wah lah!| for voila the other day, and i thought, oh tv culture, you have rendered me a dinosaur.

  15. I had to stop ‘irregardless’ from happening THREE times during my teaching rounds today.

    In response to Bon’s comment about ‘wah lah’, I once saw ‘longer-a’ in a script clearly meant to signify women’s sexy undergarments. hmmph.

  16. You’re killing me; this was hilarious.

  17. also? so is each other. EACH OTHER. not eachother.

    and irregardless? oh my god….

  18. In as much as I cannot spell without the grand assitance of spellcheck – I am easily aggrevated the grammer mistakes mentioned here. As well as the misuse of “to, too, two.” Like Stephanie – when there is nothing else to control, I bake. And I must say that I make one mean apple pie!

  19. omg and also?

    mwa for moi? kill me.

  20. In answer to Stephanie’s excellent question:
    The proper usage used to be S’, but in the past decade or so, S’S has come into common usage. So, you are correct in writing either James’ or James’s , but nowadays most people advise the second.

  21. This was just a wonderful post. I think I ought to print it out and just hand it over to every learning support student I see today….

  22. Not trying to be a smarty pants. Hope I didn’t offend. My pet peeves are do/due/dew and eager/anxious. Loved the post.

  23. To Waiting Amy:
    Towards vs Toward apparently is a US vs UK thing. So really, neither are incorrect.

    I just have to say that because as a SA/Brit living in the US, I often get accused of grammatical errors, when in fact, I am merely using what I was (correctly) taught in my home countries. Now granted, one could argue, “when in Rome…” and that would be a valid argument. However, it takes a long, long time to learn colloquial nuances such as this. Especially when many locals do not speak/write correctly according to their own culture.
    /Stepping off soapbox. Thanks.

  24. If I could pick one spelling error never to see again, it would be “posses” for “possess.” Even spell check can’t help me with that one.

  25. And then there’s “loose” when the person really means “lose.”

    Whenever someone writes something like “My goal is to loose 50 pounds,” I imagine the pounds like 50 little furry animals (ferrets? weasels?) just waiting for their chance to be set loose.

  26. Oh, I know. My son uses the word “well” as an adjective. Since he still has so few words, I’m trying to wait until he’s three to correct him. But its hard. 🙂

  27. Ah, those misused apostrophes that make me crazy, just crazy.

    But don’t get me started on intentionally misspelled store or company names–like Kids Kuts and that ilk. It’s not cute. It’s just wrong. And I won’t shop there. It’s still alliteration when you spell those words correctly.

  28. “my children are likely to find themselves in a world war over water”

    Wow. That statement really depressed me and scared me!

    On a lighter note, I was wondering just yesterday when to use its and when to use it’s. Now I know!