Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh, puh-lease!

UPDATE: I changed the picture.
The previous picture was of an opening single quotation mark,
not an apostrophe.
My apologies.
I just saw a new all-time low for abuse of homonyms in the English language:

[facepalm] It was supposed to be "their," as in "eat their brains," (yes, really) but clearly the writer was unsure about they're and their, so opted for a mashup. Here's your quick lesson (not that any of my readers need it, but some poor soul might google for help):
  • In many cases apostrophes take the place of one or more absent letters. The apostrophe in "they're" is a placeholder for the "a" in "are."
      • They + are =  They 're
      •                   = They're
  • "Their" means "belonging to them." It is not a contraction, so no apostrophes are needed.
Other cases where you'll see the apostrophe used this way:
  • E'er = ever, and ne'er = never
  • Y'all = you all (Note that, for this reason, "ya'll" is incorrect)
  • Can't = can not (the apostrophe replaces the extra "n" as well as the "o")
  • Don't, won't
For those of you eager for an etymology lesson, apostrophe is the Greek word "ἀποστροφή" (there go my Blogger stats!), which is a rhetorical device "when a speaker or writer breaks off and directs speech to an imaginary person or abstract quality or idea." Thus in both cases (the grammatical and the rhetorical) the apostrophe refers to an absence of something. Does that help?


  1. Apostophes also show ownership, but do not make a word plural! That should be lesson #2. I don't know how many times I see signs that say something like, "sweater's on sale". It drives me nuts! It's either trying to tell me one sweater is on sale (if the apostrophe is used as a contraction as described above to replace the "i" of "is") or it's maybe saying something the person who sweats owned is on sale? Gross! (I actually saw this one in a store at the mall).

  2. Ah, the apostrophized plural - I've seen it too many places, too. I sure do hope it wasn't unidentified items belonging to a profuse sweater. Ick.


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