Apostrophe Addicts Abound

apostrophe horrorOne of the fads that I just don’t get is the current fascination with apostrophes. They’re popping up everywhere they don’t belong. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret: They are very easy to control, and you don’t even have to go to an AAA meeting!

Whenever you see an apostrophe, just stop and say (to yourself or out loud, works either way) the two complete words that are missing (contraction). If it makes sense, fine. No change is needed. But what if no words are missing, or it doesn’t make sense? Then, does the word with the apostrophe own something (possession)? If yes, then it’s probably fine. If not, then the apostrophe doesn’t belong there. Then you will have to figure out what goes there instead, which can get tricky with some of them. Let’s practice with some easier ones first. We’ll take on the more difficult ones in our next blog post.

List of standard contractions

EXAMPLE: What’s for dinner?

1. You see an apostrophe, so you stop and say the two words that are missing: For the contraction what’s, the two words replaced are what is.

2. What is for dinner? That makes sense, so no change is needed, because the apostrophe is taking the place of the two complete words (contraction).

CORRECT: What’s for dinner?

EXAMPLE: The dog’s tail was broken.

1. You see an apostrophe, so you stop and say the two words that are missing: The word dog’s is not a contraction, so no words are missing.

2. In that case, does the word with the apostrophe own something? Yes, the dog owns his tail.

3. No change is needed, because the apostrophe is showing possession.

CORRECT: The dog’s tail was broken.

EXAMPLE: The veterinarian thinks it’s going to heal.

1. You see an apostrophe, so you stop and say the two words that are missing: For the contraction it’s, the two words replaced are it is.

2. The veterinarian thinks it is going to heal. That makes sense, so no change is needed, because the apostrophe is taking the place of the two complete words (contraction).

CORRECT: The veterinarian thinks it’s going to heal.

EXAMPLE: The dog’s paw’s are bloody, too.

1. You see an apostrophe, so you stop and say the two words that are missing: The word dog’s is not a contraction, so no words are missing.

2. In that case, does the word with the apostrophe own something? Yes, the dog owns his paws, so no change is needed there. But don’t forget the other apostrophe.

3. You see another apostrophe, so you stop and say the two words that are missing: The word paw’s is not a contraction, so no words are missing.

4. In that case, does the word with the apostrophe own something? No, the paws do not own anything.

5. No contraction and no possession= no apostrophe needed. Get rid of it!

CORRECT: The dog’s paws are bloody, too.

Since this is English, there are exceptions to these guidelines, of course. We’ll tackle those next time, when we work on weird possessives such as whose/who’s, it’s/its and those pesky yard signs that say The Smiths’.

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Apostrophe Addicts Abound

Who, whom, whose?

“He is who?” “Him is whom?” That’s right, I recently explained to a friend about how to determine which of these pronouns to use. Who is the subjective form (used as the subject of a phrase), just as he and she are the subjective forms. And whom is the objective form (used as the object of a phrase), just as him and her are the objective forms. So, to help you figure out which one is correct, you could change it to she/he or him/her, even if it doesn’t make sense for the meaning of the sentence. You might need to turn the phrase around a bit, also. And make sure you’re only considering its use in the clause it begins. It gets even trickier with questions. More on those later.

Let’s start with statements:

EXAMPLE: He is a leader who/whom everyone likes.

1. Separate the clause: who/whom everyone likes.

2. Determine how it’s being used in the clause: Everyone is the subject. Likes is the verb. He/him is the direct object, which means it should be in the objective case.

3. Substitute another form, if needed. Everyone likes him. Him = whom. Therefore, the correct choice is the objective form whom.

CORRECT: He is a leader whom everyone likes.

EXAMPLE: I think she is the one who/whom spilled the milk.

1. Separate the clause: who/whom spilled the milk.

2. Determine how it’s being used in the clause: Who/whom is the subject, which means it should be in the subjective case. Spilled is the verb. Milk is the direct object.

3. Substitute another form, if needed. She spilled the milk. She = who. Therefore, the correct choice is the subjective form who.

CORRECT: I think she is the one who spilled the milk.

Got it? OK, let’s work on questions. You can change the question to a statement to help you figure out how it’s being used in the clause or sentence.

EXAMPLE: Who/whom were you talking to?

1. Turn it into a statement: You were walking to who/whom.

2. Determine how it’s being used in the sentence: You is the subject. Were talking is the verb. Who/whom is the direct object, so it should be in the objective case.

3. Substitute another form, if needed: You were talking to him. Him=whom. Therefore, the correct form is the objective form whom.

CORRECT: Whom were you talking to?

Extra credit if you know what a predicate nominative is! It follows a to be verb form and renames the subject. It always takes the subjective case.

EXAMPLE: Who/whom is your partner?

1. Turn it into a statement: Your partner is who/whom.

2. Determine how it’s being used in the clause: Partner is the subject. Is, is the verb, a form of to be. Who/whom is the predicate nominative. It follows is and renames the subject.

3. Predicate nominatives always take the subjective form. Therefore, the correct choice is the subjective form who.

CORRECT: Who is your partner?

So, where does whose come in, you ask? It doesn’t! Not here anyway. It is a completely different form: a possessive. It is only used to show possession. Not to be confused with who’s, which is only a contraction of who is. And those, my children, are a story for another night …

Who, whom, whose?