Posted tagged ‘punctuation’

Apostrophes and Possessives Made Clear

July 15, 2009

newsletterI got this newsletter from Jane Straus this morning in my inbox. Most of the time, I don’t forward these missives on to my blog, but this proves extremely helpful for people who have questions.

Plural and Possessive Forms with Names Ending in y

How do you form the plural of a proper noun that ends in y such as Murphy? Should you change the name to Murphies? Given how other English words ending in y form their plurals, you would think so.


puppy / puppies

army / armies

supply / supplies

However, proper nouns are not made plural in the same way common nouns are.

Rule: Do not change the spelling of a name to make it plural. Instead, just add s.


I visited the Murphys last weekend.

We have two Zacharys in our office.

What if you want to show possession with a name that ends in y?

Rule: To show singular possession, use the apostrophe and then the s.

Example: I petted Mrs. Murphy’s cat.

Rule: To show plural possession, make the proper noun plural first, then use the apostrophe.


I petted the Murphys’ cat.

I visited the Murphys’ store on Main Street.

Rule: To show the plural of a name that ends in s, ch, or z, add es.


The Sanchezes will be over soon.

The Thomases moved away.

Problems with Prepositions

August 13, 2008

I hate, hate, HATE it when someone says “Where do you work at?” or “We’ll meet you where you are at!” Ending a sentence with a preposition, I have always thought, is a big no-no. However, it sounds rather strange when I ask my dog, “At what are you barking?”

I have been getting Jane Straus’s (I’m not completely sure about the apostrophe placement, here) e-newsletter about grammar and punctuation for quite some time, but today’s tip is truly a nugget of wisdom:

Prepositions are words that often show direction: below, above, over, under, around, through, in, out, between, among, to, toward(s). Other common prepositions include of, for (also sometimes a conjunction), from, with, like (also sometimes a verb).

Rule: You shouldn’t use or end a sentence with an unnecessary preposition, i.e., when the meaning is clear without it. Sentences may end with necessary prepositions.

Correct: That is something I cannot agree with.
With is a necessary preposition.

Correct: How many of you can I count on?
On is necessary.

Incorrect: Where did he go to?

Correct: Where did he go?
To is unnecessary because the meaning is clear without it.

Rule: Don’t follow like with a subject and verb because prepositions are followed only by nouns that act as the object of the preposition. Use as or as if or as though instead of like when a subject and verb follow.

Correct: I wish I could be more like her.

Incorrect: It doesn’t look like she will show up for dinner.

Correct: It doesn’t look as if (or as though) she will show up for dinner.

So, please, don’t end your sentences or questions with a preposition — but if you do, make sure it is NECESSARY.

How ’bout it?

Carefully Not Casting Stones

March 11, 2008

tre-cover.jpgDuring her South-by-Southwest (SXSW) interview of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, profiled Business Week writer Sarah Lacy was heckled by Facebook enthusiasts as she asked questions. She was noticeably unsettled by members of the audience shouting disruptively, “Ask something interesting!” and “Let US ask the questions!”

After the interview, Lacy fired back via Twitter, “Seriously screw all you guys! I did my best to ask a range of things.” Social networking strategist Jay Deragon makes a very good point in today’s post: “When people attack others it typically represents the desire or need for one to put others down as an attempt at putting themselves up. In reality when we attack others we are actually putting ourselves down.”

Think about that. Really think about it. If we think back in our lives, we come across times when we were insulted by someone who only wanted to insult us to make himself appear to be more athletic, intelligent, handsome (you can insert any adjective to express what the other person wanted to feel).

Personally, I pride myself on grammar. It’s a passion of mine, the same way cars or politics are passions for others. I graduated with a degree in English and Journalism, so I learned not only what to write and what not to write, but also how to write what I do so that it can be understood the first time it is read. However, this does not mean that I am perfect – I’m far from it. When my son comes home from school to write story, he reminds me, “Daddy, you can’t start a sentence with the word ‘and’.”

And because he’s just learning how to write, and grammatical rules are new to him, I let it go. It was not until in college that I started to use and at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs. A journalism professor said on numerous occasions, “Paragraphs need transitions. There’s nothing wrong with using the word and as that transition.”

There really is no need to show publicly someone that his/her grammar is incorrect, unless, as Deragon says, you are a teacher.  Most of the time, it’s best to remember that just because something is true, it doesn’t necessarily need to be said aloud.

Rarely, do I point out someone’s grammatical errors publicly. Most of the time, I don’t point them out to the author or speaker – even when it’s a one-on-one situation. However, when I find an error in the blog post or marketing collateral of someone whom I respect, I will, most times, send an email to the author rather than drawing attention to the flaw publicly in the comment section.

I agree with Mr. Deragon that when one publicly points errors out, or shows someone else’s deficiencies in some area, these actions are to make that person feel more important or better about themselves, in some way. But when someone comes us to say, “Oh, you’ve got spinach in your teeth,” it’s probably not to make us small or less than competent, but rather it is to make our image look the best it possibly can.

How ’bout it?

Can Commas, Change Meaning

February 4, 2008

comma.jpgOne of the most difficult punctuation marks to teach, almost certainly, is the comma. Just like anything else, the more one forces his/her brain to think about these rules, the easier it becomes to pull them out of the dusty recesses of the mind when needed.

Below are listed some of the “main comma uses,” as provided in the Third Edition of The Bedford Handbook for Writers.

1. Before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses: No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but many foolish ideas have died there.Basically, a good rule to follow is when one has a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet), try to replace it with a period and form two sentences. Does it make sense? If it does, then replace the conjunction with a comma immediately preceding it.

My mother sent me to the store to buy milk, and it was on sale.

In the above example, the coordinating conjunction, “and,” can be removed, which forms two independent sentences. My mother sent me to the store is the first independent clause, and it was on sale is the second independent clause. Therefore, there MUST be a comma before the conjunction.

2. After an introductory clause or phrase: If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. Clauses or phrases which require a comma immediately afterusually tell when, where, how, why, or under what conditions the main action of the sentence occurred. For example, if one were to write, In the summer, the weather is quite warm, a comma after summer is needed. The only time a comma is not required is when there can be no confusion by the reader in the sentence. When John was ready to eat, his cat jumped on the table. Omitting the comma could leave the reader with the impression of a cat-eating man named John.

3. Between all items in a series: All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening. Sometimes, however, the final comma is omitted. We, who major in Journalism, are taught often that the conjunction (i.e. and, or or but) takes the place of the comma, and therefore it is not needed. You may notice in newspapers that this tends to be the case.

4. Between Coordinate Adjectives: There is a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good. Our school of thought in this case is that the comma actually can be replaced by the word “and,” and the sentence doesn’t change its meaning. Good and sound are the reasons. Another example is “The bride was blonde, slender and altogether stunning.

5. To set off Nonrestrictive Elements: Silence, which will save me from shame, will also deprive me of fame. When we are adding a phrase of a several words, we need to encapsulate it with commas. If the meaning does not change with the omission of the words within the pair of commas, then it is nonrestrictive. Writing of your only son, his name needs to be surrounded by commas. However, if we write, “social networking strategist Jay Deragon…” we do not need a pair of commas surrounding the name. Why? Because, out of all the people in the world, Jay is not the only social networking strategist.

These are but five rules which guide us to correct comma usage. When in doubt, read the sentence aloud, and put commas where you pause naturally – in most cases. Another option is to hire a professional copywriter or English or Journalism major to proofread what you’ve written.

How ’bout it?

The Communications Factors and The Relationship Economy

January 22, 2008

comchart.gifWith the emmergence of The Relationship Economy, people are beginning to ask themselves, “How do I capitalize in this new economic system?” The main trait of those people and businesses which have led the way to the Emergence of The Relationship Economy is that they all have created and maintained relationships with others.

How have they done it?

One of the major keys to nurturing relationships with others online – through Facebook, LinkedIn, Link to Nashville, etc. – is to have meaningful conversations with those who can receive and contribute value to their own personal networks. Every one of us has a personal network; from friends, members of the same church, neighbors and family.

 To foster relationships online with “relationship capital” conversations of some sort are required. The Communications Factors play a major role in the conversations. Whether they are facilitated by videos, blogs, emails, or social networks, the conversations need to be carefully crafted so that the message remains clear no matter what kind of day the recipient is having.

We all have read emails and thought, “What’d he mean by that?” Sarcasm and dry humor doesn’t come across well without face-to-face communications, so we created “emoticons” or simple keystrokes to show our intent: colon and closing parenthesis produces : ) or jk is understood as “Just kidding.”

But beyond these quick shorthand signals which were readily adopted by the internet generation, there is really no way to create/establish and maintain relationships other than through word choice and sentence structure.

Granted, if someone gets offended by an email a friend sent, the worst thing that could happen would be the loss of a friend. However, in the business world, if a large segment of the consumer is offended by an ad-campaign, Millions of dollars could be lost, possibly never to be recovered.

The Relationship Economyis determinate on the number of quality relationships that a business or individual has with others who can ultimately provide value – directly or indirectly – to one’s own personal network. The quality relationships can be created and maintained by having conversations with others who share similar likes, dislikes, or interests. In turn, those conversations – one to one, then to millions – must be made crystal-clear through the knowledge and understanding of the language (i.e. rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.).

How ’bout it?

Answers to Today’s Quiz

December 12, 2007

If you don’t have the slightest idea about the quiz, click here and read the post which comes up before you continue to read this post.

  1. The snow does’nt rise any higher than the horses’ fetlocks. [more than one horse] It should be “doesn’t” since the apostrophe forms a contraction of does not.

  2. For a bus driver, complaints, fare disputes, and robberies are all part of a days work. Should be day‘s, since the work belongs to the day. It could effectively be written “all part of the work of a day.”

  3. Each day the menu features a different countries’ dish. The article “a” shows that it is only one country which has food featured on the menu. Therefore the correction “country‘s” should be made.

  4. We cleared four years accumulation of trash out of the attic; its amazing how much junk can pile up. The accumulation was of four years, and therefore years needs to be possessive: “years’ .”

  5. Booties are placed on the sled dogs feet to protect them from sharp rocks and ice. [more than one dog] Since sled dogs is plural, the apostrophe alone should be added to form “dogs’ .”

  6. Sue and Ann went to a party for a friend of theirs’. There shouldn’t be an apostrophe in this sentence. Their is already possessive, and so is theirs, so no apostrophe should be used in this case. Don’t confuse this with the contraction, “there’s” as in, “there is ice on the window.” The apostrophe in there’s takes the place of the -i and forms a contraction.

  7. Three teenage son’s can devour about as much food as four full-grown field hands. The only difference is that they dont do half as much work.“Sons,” in this sentence aren’t give possession of anything. Therefore no apostrophe is needed. However, the word “dont” actually needs an apostrophe because it is the contraction of the words “do” and “not.” The apostrophe takes the place of the -o and allows the two words to be squished together.

  8. Ethiopians’s meals were served on fermented bread. Ethiopians is plural, and therefore only requires the apostrophe to make it possessive. The correct plural form of Ethiopians is Ethiopians .

  9. Luck is an important element in a rock musicians career. Again, we are talking about only one musician, so the possession belongs to him/her. The correct possessive form of ONE musician is musician‘s.

  10. My sister-in-law’squilts are being shown at the Fendrick Gallery. This one is a little tricky. Sister-in-law needs to be possessive, so the correct form is sister‘s-in-law. Actually, there is nothing wrong with that sentence. If the quilts belonged to TWO or MORE in-laws, then you would need to have sisters-in-law’s, I THINK. DOES ANYONE WHO READS THIS BLOG KNOW WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY? I welcome comments and advice. I just really don’t know.

 How ’bout it?

AARP: Allowed Apostrophe Rules, Please!

December 12, 2007


The apostrophe, or its correct use,  has been a thorn in the side for many businessmen and women who pursued a business degree rather than an English degree. Fortunately, or unfortunately, some would say, there are others in the workforce who pursued English as a discipline rather than Business Administration. It just so happens that I am one of those grammatically anal twits who cringe every time they hear or read a sentence which is not grammatically correct.

               So today, I’m going to provide you, the readers of this blog, with a “quizzie.” Don’t ask what I call tests. What I would like for you to do is to edit the following sentences and correct the errors. If the sentence is correct, just write correct. Actually, none of the sentences are correct.

  1. The snow does’nt rise any higher than the horses’ fetlocks. [more than one horse]

  2. For a bus driver, complaints, fare disputes, and robberies are all part of a days work.

  3. Each day the menu features a different countries’ dish.

  4. We cleared four years accumulation of trash out of the attic; its amazing how much junk can pile up.

  5. Booties are placed on the sled dogs feet to protect them from sharp rocks and ice. [more than one dog]

  6. Sue and Ann went to a party for a friend of theirs’.

  7. Three teenage son’s can devour about as much food as four full-grown field hands. The only difference is that they dont do half as much work.

  8. Ethiopians’s meals were served on fermented bread.

  9. Luck is an important element in a rock musicians career.

  10. My sister-in-law’s quilts are being shown at the Fendrick Gallery.

How’d you do? Were the errors pretty evident, or did you have to go back and re-read the sentences before you found them? I will post the corrected version later today, so check back!

How ’bout it?