People seem to have a love affair for apostrophes. If a family’s name ends in a vowel, an apostrophe will surely appear: the Martino’s. There is no such entity as “the Martino,” so no ownership exists. The family is simply the Martinos. Easy.
It’s and its is a constant problem. It’s means it is or it has. That’s it. Its indicates possession: The dog wagged its tail. Also easy.
And there are who’s and whose. The apostrophe tells you who’s means who is. Whose is a pronoun indicating ownership: Whose shoes are these? Ricardo is one of three people whose paintings were accepted for publication. Again, easy.
If you recall the “Borat” movie (and who can forget it?), you will remember that Borat came to the United States from Kazakhstan, his native country. Kazakhstan was formerly under Soviet rule and used the Cyrillic alphabet because the Kazakh language has never had an alphabet of its own and has sounds that would be difficult to transpose into either Cyrillic or Latin aphabets.
Alert: CRISIS IN KAZAKHSTAN! The president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has declared that beginning in 2025 the Latin alphabet will be the official way to write the Kazakh language.
About half the Russian population has left the country, so there is no great uproar about the change from Cyrillic to Latin orthography among the populace. What is riling Kazakhs is that Mr. Nazarbayev has decreed that instead of using diacritical marks such as umlauts and other phonetic markers to aid in pronunciation, apostrophes will be used to change the sounds of certain letters. Many, many apostrophes. So many apostrophes that Kazakhs are complaining that their eyes will bleed trying to read the Latin script sprinkled with endless apostrophes. “The Republic of Kazakhstan” will now be written “Qazaqstan Respy’bli’kasy.” Got that?
President Nazarbayev has never been a man to be questioned. However, the uproar against his proposed abundance of apostrophes has been loud and aggressive, and the head of the senate of Kazakhstan has recently said that “a final decision has not been made.” (Note the passive voice.) Nazarbayev is described as a man who wants to be remembered as inventing his own alphabet. There is a good chance he will be. Stay tuned. I wonder where Borat comes down on this issue.
I had to fight the glare on this shop window, so the photo quality is as bad as the sign’s writing: WALKIN’S WELCOME. It’s confusing. Is the word supposed to be WALKING? No. It should be WALK-INS. That hyphen adds clarity. And please lose that apostrophe! “WALKINS,” however they spelled it, is just a plural. It’s not possessive. But people see a final S and are overcome by an urge to reach deep into their apostrophe pocket and yank out an apostrophe to throw in before that S. Resist! Thank you.
© Judi Birnberg
I have written previously about the error of putting apostrophes into words that end in S but are not possessive: My cat’s chase each other through the house at high speed’s. Cats and speeds are merely plurals and do not take apostrophes since no ownership is shown.
Here are three other instances when an apostrophe is not needed:
1. When referring to decades: the 1990s
2. When referring to temperatures: highs in the mid-70s
3. When using abbreviations that are plural: 12 CPAs, two BMWs
Every time you want to use an apostrophe, take a good look and see if it really is in a possessive word or in a contraction. If not, delete it.
I go through this every year in mid-February: looking through the ads for refrigerators, mattresses and windows, I see three different ways to show why Washington and Lincoln were born to sell these items. Which one is correct?
That’s a shadow,. This banner has no apostrophe.
Here we have both presidents trying to sell you appliances.
And here is only one president—but is it Washington or Lincoln selling you windows?
Obviously, the correct punctuation is seen in the second example. The rule for using apostrophes is very simple: take the owner word and add ‘S. If the owner word happens to end in an S, just add an apostrophe (boss=boss’).
This post isn’t about who owns that crummy bar downtown. It’s about using apostrophes when more than one person owns something (although, we could be talking about that crummy bar). Look at the following sentences:
1. John and Bill’s crummy bar downtown is doing well, despite its location.
Why does only Bill get an apostrophe showing ownership? When two or more people own the same thing, only the last person mentioned gets an apostrophe. That’s the rule.
2. John’s and Bill’s wives are very good friends.
Presumably, John and Bill each has his own wife; they don’t share connubial bliss. Therefore, each man gets his own apostrophe (along with his own wife).