Today’s installment of Mangled Monday: A minor rant on the topic of “When Did Apostrophes Become the Sign of All Things Plural?”
Apostrophes are just wonderful punctuation marks. They truly are. In her “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves,” Lynne Truss refers to the apostrophe as the “frantically multi-tasking female, dotting hither and yon,” because it’s so versatile. Lately, though, people seem confused and–what with the apostrophe being so helpful–are drafting it to do all sorts of things it’s not qualified to do, or misusing it for jobs it does do.
Let’s review, shall we?
Apostrophes stand in for other letters and numbers.
- When writing contractions (Don’t! Won’t! Can’t!)
- When writing years (’07)
- When writing dialect (I told ‘im not to do it).
They show possession. This rule of thumb is fairly straight-forward.
- If the noun is singular, you use apostrophe-S. (My 30-year old television’s antenna finally broke.)
- If the noun is plural, you use S-apostrophe (My monkeys’ uncle just stole all of their bananas.)
- If the singular noun already ends in an “s” the apostrophe alone is usually sufficient. (Jess’ motorcycle.)
Plurals (but only on very rare occasions)
This seems to be the one that gets most people into trouble. As a rule, you do not need apostrophes to indicate the plural of anything.
There is just one exception.
- They mark the plurals of letters and of words. (Too few o’s in to. Are there too many the’s in that paragraph?)
Other than that, though? No. Books. Beans. Words. Dogs. Lightbulbs. Notebooks. Cars. Drawers. All of these words are effortlessly made plural by the simple addition of the letter “s.” No extra flourishes required. This one drives me absolutely bonkers. If you want a plural, just add an “s.” Nothing else. Give the poor apostrophe a break. It’s already working hard enough.