Triangle Grammar Guide

Longtime N&O journalist Pam Nelson writes about language use and misuse and answers questions about grammar and style. Readers can weigh in on what annoys them, too. Think of this as your online grammar class. Send e-mail to Pam at pam.nelson@newsobserver.com.

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Don't fear the apostrophe

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Two advertisements caught our eyes this week. They have apostrophe problems, but different ones. The first, pictured below, falls into the old trap of using an apostrophe to make a plural. The shopping center mentioned in this ad, which came as a direct mail flier, is Clayton Corners (multiple corners).

The second ad appeared on television. It has a more unusual apostrophe problem, as you can see below. We use apostrophes to make nouns possessive, a vestige of a time when English was a more inflected language, when words changed form to indicate their function in a sentence. Pronouns still change form when they are used in the possessive case, but nouns merely take 's or ' . I wonder if the ad writers feared the apostrophe. Or maybe the apostrophe was just omitted inadvertently.

 

At the risk of sounding like a schoolmarm, I am going to repeat something that we learned early in elementary school.

Here are the simplified rules for making a common noun possessive.

  • For singular nouns, add 's. man's friend, girl's dress.
  • For plural nouns ending in s, add ' (apostrophe only). boys' game, dogs' leashes.
  • For plural nouns not ending in s, add 's. men's friend, children's games.


There are, of course, variations on the rules, but these rules will carry us through most cases.

Update: A commenter questioned whether the shopping center mentioned in the first ad was indeed Clayton Corners. It is. Below is a photo of the shopping center's sign.

gramnar-corners1



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TWC ad, and rules

To properly assign blame for the TWC ad, we'd need to know that the error was not made by the owners of the shopping center. (Although in that case, the ad could have said "Clayton Corner's [sic]".

Regarding the rules--I think the baseline rules need to include "no apostrophes for pronouns". I get so tired of "it's" being used for "its".

Could not the TWC ad be

Could not the TWC ad be considered correct if one were to interpret the shopping center as belonging to the area of Clayton Corner, thereby making it a possessive? It's a stretch, but plausible.

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About the blogger

Pam Nelson began her career as a writer in 1976 and has worked in various editing jobs at The News & Observer since 1987. She has won awards for her headline writing and has taught college classes in copy editing and seminars in grammar and usage.
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