Simple Grammatical Rule

Simple Grammatical Rule: a’p’o’s’t’r’o’p’h’e’s

“Sister shares Steve Jobs’s last words”

    Yup. It was written just like that, incorrect capitalization and all. The title of a major news web-article on the home-page of millions of computers. I won’t link to the article, but you can find it on Yahoo!™ if you need to see it for yourself.
    I’ve held on to this one since Halloween, yet wanted to post it the minute I read the apostrophe catastrophe. Instead I thought my timing too early and the sentiment behind the article too beautiful to muss up by being finicky. The Yahoo!™ piece was clearly a copy/paste, as so many are with on-line news outlets. Why did the person forwarding this story decide to change the title? Was he wrong, or were the 300 other postings of the same article wrong? When I asked online peers what they thought, opinions were divided.

I’ve broken down the argument for the “Jobs’s” example:

  • Jobs is a person/name.
  • It happens to end in S.
  • The last words belong to Jobs
  • They are Jobs’s last words.

 Now I’ll break down the argument against the “Jobs’s” example:

  • Because it is wrong!
  • Ok- that actually happens to be my opinion.
  • Still wrong.

 In reality, both arguments are correct. But I’ll cover that at the end of this post.

The apostrophe is a ridiculously misused punctuation mark.  It is probably so often misplaced because it serves many different functions.

1.  Showing omitted characters:
 Referred to as an elision. (This editor is not above admitting she had to look that up, because it was stuck in the cobwebs of her memory as elipsium, which is not even a word.)

  • ’11 = 2011 (When referencing a whole decade, like The 2000s, no apostrophe is needed.)
  • I’m = I am  (he’s, she’s, they’re, it’s)
  • she’ll = she will  (he’ll, they’ll, it’ll)
  • didn’t = did not  (couldn’t, wouldn’t, won’t, don’t)
  • who’s = who is (Not ‘whose’ – whose is a possessive pronoun.)
  • could’ve = could have (Not ‘could of’ or ‘could uh’ – those pairings don’t exist in this context.)

Contractions should be the easiest to remember since they’re so often used in our language, especially in speech. I love to say, “I’ve seen” and watch people fall all over themselves thinking they’ve caught me in a grammar snafu. Spoken quickly, “I’ve seen” can sound like “I seen”, which is very wrong.

2.  Showing plurals of lower case letters:

  • She is buying cd’s with her birthday money.
  • Don’t forget to cross your t’s and dot your i’s.
  • Mother told them to mind their p’s and q’s.
  • He is learning his abc’s in Kindergarten.
  • not ABCs
  • not 123s
  • (Although, as your editor, I would correct this if listing: “abc’s & 123’s”  or “ABCs & 123s”.)
  • not The 2000s (as shown above)
  • not on symbols – ?s, &s, #s


3.   Showing possession:

There is an easy-peasy for possessives: fill in the blanks. The ___ belongs to ____.  [or]  The ____ of ___.

“Sister Shares Steve’s Last Words.”

  • Steve’s words. (Apostrophe makes pronoun possessive.)
  • His words. (‘His’ is a possessive pronoun.)
  • The words of Steve. (easy-peasy)
  • Four weeks’ time. (Apostrophe makes noun possessive.)
  • Its time. (‘Its’ is a possessive pronoun. This is a weak example.)
  • The time of four weeks. (easy-peasy)
  • Windsor’s Duke. (Apostrophe makes pronoun possessive.)
  • Their Duke. (‘Their’ is a possessive pronoun.)
  • The Duke of Windsor. ☺ (easy-peasy)
  • The box’s contents. (Apostrophe makes noun possessive.)
  • Its contents. (‘Its’ is a possessive pronoun.)
  • The contents of the box. (easy-peasy)
  • Steve was Mona’s brother. (Apostrophe makes pronoun possessive.)
  • Her brother. (‘Her’ is a possessive pronoun.)
  • The brother of Mona. (easy-peasy)

What is the difference between Its and It’s?

  • It’s = the contraction for ‘it is”. (see above)
  • Its  = the possessive of ‘it’.
  • easy-peasy for Its = You would never write “her’s” or “their’s”. 
Remember “his” as your base possessive pronoun example.
    His, Her/Hers, Their/Theirs, Its

What if you are showing possession by two or more people, or the crazy compounds that seem to stump everyone?

When listing names in possession of something, add the apostrophe to the name of the last individual.

  • Pretty soon Bella and Edward’s baby will make it’s on-screen debut. (No letters please, I know…)
  • Mom and Dad’s house is over the river.

When using compound words, think of why you are adding an S. Let’s look at the example of “sister-in-law”.

  • The pen belongs to her. It is my sister-in-law’s pen.  (possession)
  • I have two married brothers. I am blessed with two sisters-in-law.  (plural)

3a. It is NEVER ok to substitute a comma for an apostrophe!

If you write “Steve,s sister gave his eulogy”, not only will I correct you, I will probably ask you where you learned to write. Then you will think I’m mean, and I will say something that makes you realize, yes, in fact, I am mean, and we will never work together again. (THAT, is the way you use a comma!)

✍ ✍ ✍  ✍

In reality, both the Jobs’ and Jobs’s arguments are correct.

  • Jobs’s means something belonging to Jobs (possession)
  • Jobs’ means there are multiple Jobs family members (plural)
  • Jobs’ can also mean something belonging to Jobs (possession)
  • Jobs’s also signifies the possession by a whole family (possessive plural) The Jobs’s dog was lost again.

Both are acceptable and really just preference. (Know your audience! Is this for a professor who will penalize you for not writing it the way she prefers? Is this for that one Yahoo!™ customer who is a grammar fanatic?)

Personally, I would only use Jobs’s for the possessive plural. And since it STILL looks odd to me, I would be more likely to write:

  • The Jobs Family lost their dog again. (Jobs Family becomes the possessive plural.)
  • The Jobs’ family dog was lost again. (Jobs’ becomes the possessive of Jobs.)

By the way, I am really not mean.

[Dear WordPress – Stop changing my formatting!]


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