You Can’t See the Forest for the Apostrophes!

It was just after five last night. Your Guru took her usual seat at the bar of her local pub, ready to relax after a hard day of punctuating, spelling, and just generally cleaning up the messes that writers tend to leave. Don’t get your Guru wrong, she loves writers! They keep her in business.

But back to the pub. Your Guru had just settled back behind her pint of amber and there it was: a new Sunday brunch menu, offering “mimosa’s and bloody mary’s.”

Now, if you didn’t have any reaction to that (aside from thirst, that is), allow your Guru to enlighten you. Never, ever put an apostrophe in any word that is simply being pluralized. Many years have been spent, and friendships occasionally jeopardized, in your Guru’s attempt to understand why people insist on putting apostrophes in plural words.

“But it’s so confusing!” you wail. Well, here’s a little secret – it’s not because it’s hard; it’s because hardly anybody ever gets it right anymore, and they’ve confused you. Relax, your Guru is here to help. It’s much easier than you think, and the rules are simple.

First, though, let’s talk about the apostrophe for a bit. This tiny little mark is one of the punctuation marks invented about 500 years ago to help people read those handwritten books more easily. In those days, most reading was done aloud, and punctuation was invented to help the reader know when to pause or when to put emphasis on a particular word or phrase.

Unfortunately, that tiny mark has to work overtime, what with all the things we use it for: replacing a dropped letter in a word (shouldn’t); showing possession (the guru’s book); and, in some instances, being called in to do overtime as a quotation mark to back up the double ones that are already working (“You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see,’” said the Hatter).

So, let’s give this already overworked little bit of punctuation a break, and not put it where it patently doesn’t belong. It doesn’t belong in words like bananas, tomatoes, or potatoes. These are just plurals, just like DVDs or CDs. And no, it doesn’t belong there either.

Maybe it’ll help to show you a few places where the apostrophe is often abused, and set the record straight:

ifs and buts
dos and don’ts
threes and fours
yeses and nos

To see more about using apostrophes, watch the video:

And remember, if you want to carry a stack of reference books in your pocket, check out Grammar Guru, the smartphone app that answers the most common questions of American English grammar. Available for iPhone and Android.

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