Welcome to the A.A.A.A. -- the
Association for the Appropriate Application of the Apostrophe!

Last Updated: January 21, 2005

A page devoted to pointing out and correcting some all-too-common grammar, syntax, and spelling errors. Well, not really. A page devoted to BITCHING about illiterate MORONS!

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The Truth About Apostrophes.
Let's get straight to the point here. As our name suggests, the apostrophe (a.k.a. "the flying comma") is a frequently abused and misunderstood punctuation mark. Most of us probably learned about the apostrophe in grammar school (duh!). We were taught that, in general, you use an apostrophe and an S to make the possessive form of a word. Like, "the man's shoe," "the dog's collar," "the anarchist's pipe bomb," etc. So, WHY do I keep seeing the apostrophe used to form the PLURAL? A plain old S is fine here, folks! Really! People will see the S, EVEN WITHOUT the apostrophe! I swear! Consider the following:

 Singular Form

Plural Form

Possessive Form

the bird

those birds

the bird's beak

a car

some cars

the car's bumper

a shotgun

lots of shotguns

the shotgun's trigger

Okay? Occasionally, you might have to add an -es, or even remove a Y and add the dreaded -ies. But please, please, no -ie's. This kind of error has been known to cause spontaneous brain hemorrhage when viewed, especially when it appears on professionally-made signs in public areas.

It's Not Its Fault It's So Confusing!
In a related issue, let's put to rest the confusion surrounding its and it's. This is one of those nasty little exceptions to the possessive apostrophe rule: "Its" is the possessive form, while "it's" is a conjunction between the words "it" and "is." Examples: "The hamster ate its young"; "It's wonderful that we got rid of that hamster."

People Do Not Lay Down.
Now, it's time to straighten out the lie/lay thing. Rack your brain, and try to remember from 7th grade english class that there are transitive and intransitive verbs. Transitive verbs (like "to lay") perform an action directly onto something else, while intransitive verbs ("to lie") take a preposition or something instead. Please look at this table and memorize it; copy it down and carry it with you, if necessary.


 To Lie

 To Lay


 I (will) lie down on the bed.
(I'm lying on the bed.)

 Hey duck, you (will) lay an egg.
You are laying an egg.


 I lay on the bed yesterday.

 That duck just laid an egg!

Past Perfect

 I have lain on this bed before.

 This duck has laid eggs before.

(This "lie" is a different verb altogether from the kind of lie that you tell, okay? Present = "lie," past = "lied.")

Singular, or Plural -- Not Both

What else? Well, how about some consistency when it comes to pronouns? The following example is wrong: "No one is going to eat their young." The key portion of this sentence is "one" -- No "one" is going to eat "their" young. "Their" is plural! "One" is singular! Don't mix them up! I know this is a very P.C. time, but really, it's okay to say, "No one is going to eat his young." I heard once that you're supposed to use whatever pronoun applies to you; in other words, guys say "his" and girls say "her." Whatever. Use that awkward "his or her" phrase if you have to -- at least it's not a glaring mistake.

How to Speak
General pronunciation error. Please say the word "nuclear" like this: "noo-klee-er." Not "nuke-yuh-ler." Thank you.

This is where it IS, not where it's AT
Wanna sound like a hick? Say, "I don't know where the cow's at." Non-hicks don't end sentences on a preposition like that: "I don't know where the cow is." Another example: "Where's it going to?" Say instead, "where's it going?"

Additions to the Grammar Page
(Sorry it took so long, folks!)

Contributed by C.B. Poole:

1. Pronunciation is to be pronounced 'pro-nun-cia-ion,' rather than 'pro-noun-cia-tion,' unless the speaker wishes the cessation of a particular pronoun, I suppose. (Okay, a reach. Give me a break, it's late.)

2. Back when the general public spoke proper English, the "t" in "often" was (until rather recently) silent; the word was pronounced "offen."

3. As to the mixing of singular nouns and plural verbs, a nice alternative to both "he" or "she" is the unisex, highly PC, and grammatically correct "one's." Consider: "No one is going to eat one's young." Now, as one may clearly see, the original example must be slightly modified to accommodate this alternative suggestion. However, with only slight rewording to remove the negative phrasing, the awkwardness vanishes. Consider this revision: "Go right ahead and eat one's young, even if only your own."

Contributed by UhOh91@aol.com:

People also cannot pronounce the word jewelry. Instead of "jew-el-ry, most people incorrectly say "jewl-er-rie", think they're cool talking about diamonds or whatever precious stone they're referring to when they cannot even pronounce the subject matter. oh, Br - Other!

Tank que.

Contributed by shure9@excite.com:

"Supposably" and the dreaded "irregardless." People have to be stopped from saying this crap. Maybe you can help. I have also heard regularily and numically (rather than
numerically). Why oh why.

Question from sidsnan@webtv.net: (I don't know the answer to this one...anyone who can help, please email me. Thanks. -- Phungus)

Apostrophe usage: "Drew Jones' book was laid down on the table." Is this correct?

Answer from Betsy Alexander:

"As a young person in an earlier age, I was taught that the above usage was correct. Somehow while I wasn't watching, the world changed. Now I'm told that Drew Jones' book requires an additional "s". I see this now everywhere. And to tell the truth, "Jones's" looks better to me now. I'm a professional editor and I'm supposed to know these things, but I'm struggling like everybody else."

Contributed by William Stearns (wstearns at pobox.com) and Jeff Dike (jdike at karaya.com):

When you have a list of things, you put commas between everything:

UML is a port of the Linux kernel. As such, it is in principal the
same as any other Linux port, such as the x64, Sparc and Alpha ports. (wrong)
same as any other Linux port, such as the x64, Sparc, and Alpha ports. (right)

These sites mention this rule:

http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm (section 1)
http://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk.html#2 (Elements of Style)
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_comma.html (section 5)

This last one has the best coverage of the issue, including pointers to other style articles and books that agree, with one exception, that the last comma is needed. The exception is the Associated Press Stylebook, which says the last comma should be omitted; this is apparently why journalists don't use them.

(I remember being taught in elementary/middle school that you leave off the last comma. But by then in junior high, they said commas all around. They changed their minds! :) -- Phungus)

A followup: "Julius" <apweiler at pt dot lu> wrote (a WHILE ago...)

I was just reading your grammar page, and I couldn't resist pointing this out:

(from the page)
UML is a port of the Linux kernel. As such, it is in principal the same as any other Linux port, such as the x64, Sparc and Alpha ports.
same as any other Linux port, such as the x64, Sparc, and Alpha ports.

There is something else in this quote that bothers me. Okay, your page is about grammar, not spelling, but then I'd see most apostrophe issues as spelling, especially the it's/its confusion, which drives me up the wall - and English isn't even my mother tongue.

Good page, I have to say. Someone had to point all this out (although for me, being European, there's the additional complication of US/UK English - I learned British English in school.)

Greetings from Luxembourg,

I'm not entirely sure what the "something else" was, but, I noticed that "principal" is wrong in the above section -- it ought to be "principle". Oops. Thanks for the compliments, though. :)

Literally vs. Figuratively: "Sam" <nead at vei dot net> wrote (like a year ago, sorry...)

I stumbled upon your website and enjoyed the subject matter. One of my favorite's (<--- just kidding with the apostrophe) is the "suposebly" reference. That's a classic and is very annoying.

I didn't know if you were sensitive to the 'literally' vs. 'figuratively' virus that has permeated conversation as of recently. Seems that if a person wants to really drive home a point and show great emphasis, they willthrow in the word'literally'.

"I laughed so hard that I literally had tears coming down my face." "Man, I literally had to run like hell to catch the bus!" Huh? Most of these people have no idea what the difference is, mind you. They just love that word. For them it's like a spice. They try to flavor their overdramatic, boring stories by reaching for the same seasoning.

Well, I guess that's about it for now. Check out The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, the ultimate writing tool. Even if you're simply making a hand-lettered price tag in the deli department, take the time to do it right. Those little bottles of white-out are too expensive to purchase in bulk. Feel free to email any additions or corrections -- I'll post them and credit you.


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