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English Grammar and Punctuation

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Classic example: the apostrophy and it's mis-use!

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      05.02.2010 20:36
      Very helpful



      some hints on the correct use of the apostrophe

      Many a review's (has) been written on the topic of apostrophes. The ones in the know have nodded in agreement, the ones in the dark have either looked at the text and thought, "If only I could keep all this in mind, but it's (is) too complicated for me" or, after delivering their 1.5p, shrugged their shoulders and turned away thinking, "I can't (cannot) be a*sed. Who cares?"

      Why am I writing another review then? Rest assured, I've (have) got a life and I don't (do not) need a chill pill, I'm (am) cool, man, I've (have) even got this in writing. But I'm (am) a teacher, meaning I'm (am) eternally optimistic. The proverb 'Constant dripping wears the stone' doesn't (does not) exist for nothing. Maybe there'll (will) be a miracle and this my review will open an eye or two and lead to someone's enlightenment. The other day I met a former pupil of mine, who's (is) approaching forty; he told me that he has to think of me when he sees a wrong apostrophe (he must think of me a lot!). I taught him when he was thirteen. Hooray! Fanfare!

      From the way I've written the above paragraphs you can already learn one function of the apostrophe, namely to mark omitted letters. The greatest problem seems to be to find out if 'its' or 'it's' is correct. Where's the problem? It's so easy peasy that it's embarrassing to see how many writers don't master the problem. If pupils who learn English as a foreign language can do it right, native speakers should be able to do it right, too, don't you think?

      I could tell you something about possessive pronouns and so on but I prefer the simple, unscientific method:

      'IT'S' means 'IT IS' - that's the whole secret!

      Now whenever you are about to type one of the forms, stop, wait a sec, think if you can say 'it is'. If you can, the apostrophe is correct, if you can't, it isn't.

      Don't tell me that it is an unsurmountable obstacle to get these two forms right. For the 'Who cares?' faction: I can well imagine a staff manager looking at an applicant's text full of wrong forms and deciding against them. We're not talking the occasional typo here but slovenly writing. Will the applicant be assiduous and conscientious in their job? Maybe as a, say, fork-lift operator or chimney-sweep (honourable jobs, no doubt, I'm not discriminating against them, of course) but not as a secretary or a teacher. I don't know how often I've seen reviews by members who introduce themselves as students but who're incapable of writing correctly.

      When it comes to 'its' and 'it's', reading around shows that the apostrophe is preferred where it shouldn't be used. With 'your v. you're' and 'their v. they're' it's different, here the form without apostrophe is preferred where it should be used. Use the same method as described above: whenever you're about to type one of the forms, stop, wait a sec and ask yourself if you can say 'you are' or 'they are'. If that is the case, the apostrophe is correct, if not, it isn't.

      Btw, in negative forms, the 'o' is omitted and replaced by an apostrophe, so it must be 'isn't' and can't be 'is'nt'. Just so that you know.

      You can't wait a sec? Why the hurry? Do you really think it's of any consequence to the world at large if you post your review five minutes sooner or later? Why type the text directly into the text box and then use this later as an apology for overlooked blunders?

      Some members avoid thinking about apostrophes by not using any at all. Well, that isn't the solution, is it? If you've got your spell check switched on (how anybody can write without it being switched on remains a mystery to me), you can at least avoid forms like 'doesnt, dont, hasnt, havent, isnt' because they don't exist and your computer will show you that you've written incorrectly by underlining them. But 'it's and 'it's', 'your and you're' and 'their and they're' exist side by side, the computer can't help you there. But a little thinking doesn't hurt, does it, especially as everything is so easy peasy. If you're dyslexic and have enough probs getting your spelling right, you may give this information on your profile site so that you're not downrated by members who think that a review should be written correctly and not look like a text message.

      The second use of the apostrophe is to show that something belongs to someone, no apostrophe doesn't make this clear, an apostrophe where it doesn't belong puzzles.

      'My brothers house . . . ' - What's that? This doesn't mean anything.
      'My brother's house . . . ' - Ah, you've got *one* brother who's (not whose!!!) got a house.
      'My brothers' house . . . ' - Interesting, *two or more* of your brothers share one house.

      Believe it or not: plural forms have no apostrophe! Yes, indeed, you can't eat pizza's or write about swimming pool's and hotel room's, it's just not possible. You can stand on your head and wriggle your toes to draw attention to your original creations, but you won't change the rules, I'm afraid.

      Now that we're at it, may I digress a bit and tell you two other secrets? If you're not an invalid and can move about without help, then you can't write 'I was sat' or 'I was stood' because if you do, you must be able to answer the question, "By whom?" Who sat you and who stood you? Nobody did? Well, then it's 'I was sitting' and 'I was standing'. I'm right, definitely.

      And now we've come to the word which teases the most creativity out of the members: 'definitely'. It's DEFINITELY always and only DEFINITELY and never: definately, definatly, difinitly, difiantly. (My spell check is having a nervous breakdown!)

      There's much, much more to say on the topic of correct writing, but let's leave it at that. If every member took the above explanations on board, they would make fewer (not less!!!) mistakes. Wouldn't that be wonderful? We could have a party, open champers and dance on the tables!


      Five stars for the correct use of the apostrophe!


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        14.04.2009 23:15
        Very helpful



        A never ending battle

        It took me a while using the search tool to discover a good category to post this review in. I couldn't find a topic with spelling in the title but this category seems ideal. Spelling, grammar and punctuation is a topic that has plagued me for as long as I can remember and until this week I really did think I was past the time in my life where it affected me. This review is not about dyslexia but I do think it is relevant to mention that I had assessments at primary school, secondary school and university and each time was stamped as dyslexic.

        This review is predominantly on the effect my lack of ability to spell has had on my life. The first memories of school that I have are spelling tests. I'm not sure how old I would have been at the time, I remember the my teacher at primary school would give us a spelling test every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I used to practice every night at home with my mum, we did 10 words a night from a list the teacher had passed out in school.

        We had to sit in silence during the spelling test, while our teacher read out the words we had to spell. When we had finished she would pick one child per word from the class to say the spelling out loud. She picked me every time knowing that I would more than likely have got it wrong. On the odd occasion I would get the answer right she would make a joke of it and then ask me the next spelling knowing that I would eventually get it wrong and she could point it out to everyone again.

        I then got put in special classes for spelling, while the rest of the class were learning grammar and punctuation there were always 3 of 4 of us in the back of the class practising our spelling. I remember one time looking over at the chalk board that the other children were learning from and seeing the words noun and verb. I asked my 'special' teacher what they meant, she told me they were only for children who could spell. I can honestly say that throughout my years at primary school I was never taught anything about the English language except for the dreaded spellings, that is if you could call their boring lists of words teaching.

        I think one of the most upsetting time with spelling at school was when the other children were learning to write their name in calligraphy. They were given a special pen for it and then made new name plates for their trays in the classroom. Me and the other few children at school had to dedicate this time to our spelling, our trays were left with our name as plain as they were before.

        Looking back the thing I really don't understand is why the school was so obsessed with making us learn to spell. I would love to be able to spell, it is a huge stigma to not be able to spell even now but surely there is a limit to what can be done. I felt as though I missed everything at school due to their obsession with my spelling. Once you leave primary school there are certain things you are expected to know, grammar and punctuation being very high on the list. My only real lessons in sentence construction and punctuation were red rings pointing out the mistakes in my work during secondary school, I don't think they realised I had never been taught it and just presumed my writing was either lazy or that I just didn't get it.

        Somehow I passed my English GCSE's and got two C's, my A levels were in the sciences so I got to avoid the subject for a couple of years. Then we come to my first real English language lesson, it was when I got to university at the age of 18. As I had said at the start of the review, my dyslexia was tested on application to university. At this assessment I was offered extra classes to improve my Writing skills as I had to complete plenty of long essays for my course. These lessons were a complete eye opener to me and really showed me what I had been missing while my teachers were obsessing over my spelling.

        I still struggle every day with the complexities of our written language, my reviews will all contain punctuation errors, incorrect grammar and spelling mistakes that my spell check cannot pick up. Contrary to the opinions of my primary school teacher, (who told my mum I would not be bright enough to work and would probably never leave home!) I managed to obtain my degree, I have a good, professional job and have had work published in several journals including publication by Oxford University Press.

        This review may seem self indulgent and not cover punctuation and grammar in the way you thought it might when you read the title. I have written this review because I have had a couple of pretty mean personal messages about my reviews. If people only want to read reviews written in perfect English then you had better just ignore mine. I think I have plenty of qualities that can make my reviews useful if you can get past my mistakes.

        Please remember every time I receive a nasty PM it takes me back to being a child crying every night because I was bullied by my teacher. Please be kind to other members too, writing reviews can help our English skills so don't scare us away. A kind, helpful message pointing out mistakes is always appreciated.


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          21.11.2008 21:37
          Very helpful



          A look at punctuation and some grammatical errors

          First of all, my thanks to GentleGenius for suggesting this category and providing us with such a useful article on the correct use of apostrophes. My article is not an entertaining one, I'm afraid, but I hope it will be useful to a writer or two, or to schoolchildren struggling with semi-colons or superlatives. The first section deals with various types of punctuation and the second with common grammatical mistakes.


          In order to be able to punctuate correctly, it does help to have an understanding of sentences, clauses and phrases. Very briefly, a sentence needs to contain a finite verb, i.e., a verb that has a subject. A clause also has to contain a verb: a main clause can stand on its own as a sentence, whilst a subordinate clause is introduced by a conjunction. A phrase is a group of words that does not contain a verb and cannot stand alone as a sentence.

          A full stop or period must be used at the end of a sentence, as defined above, unless it is replaced by a question mark of exclamation mark. A common mistake is to use a comma instead of a full stop. In direct speech, a full stop should be placed before the closing speech marks if they mark the end of a sentence.

          Full stops or periods are also used after abbreviations, unless the abbreviation ends with the last letter of the word, in which case no period is necessary.

          QUESTION MARKS ?
          A question mark is placed at the end of a direct question. It comes before the closing speech marks in direct speech, for example:

          "Where is the library?" I asked him.

          Question marks are not used with indirect (reported) questions, for example:

          I asked him where the library was.
          This is an indirect question that does not need a question mark.

          An exclamation mark indicates surprise, anger, etc. It could also be used to show that the speaker is raising his/her voice.

          "Look out!" shouted Jim.
          "Don't be so rude!" cried the old lady.
          "I've won a prize!" exclaimed my cousin.

          COMMA ,
          The comma indicates a pause that is less strong than a paused indicated by a semi-colon or a full stop. If in doubt, it is probably better to omit a comma unless it seems absolutely necessary. In the case of a sentence with a second clause introduced by a conjunction, a comma may be placed before the conjunction if the verb in the subordinate clause has a subject, for example:

          I wanted to go abroad but couldn't really afford it. (No comma needed, as the subject of the verb couldn't is I in the previous clause.)

          I really wanted to stay in, but the sun was shining and I had no excuse.

          Commas are never placed before opening parentheses.

          Commas should be used to separate brief items in a list, the last two items being joined by the word and, for example:

          I bought apples, oranges, bananas, grapes and pears.

          A comma should be placed at the end of direct speech, before the closing speech marks, if the speech is followed by 'she said', 'he asked', and so on. Exceptions would be where a question mark or exclamation mark is required. (See below.)

          COLON :
          A colon can be used to introduce a list, for example:

          When they went on holiday they took very little luggage: a change of clothes; a first-aid kit and some toothpaste.

          Another use is to separate two clauses in a sentence, where the second clause explains the first.

          The boys went home early: it was too wet to play tennis.

          SEMI-COLON ;
          A semi-colon marks a stronger pause than a comma, but it is less strong than a full stop, for example:

          Don't wait more than half an hour for me; go on ahead.

          A semi-colon can separate longer items in a list, for example:

          We were asked to bring three dozen paper clips; two balls of string; one small and one large pair of scissors; a tube of glue suitable for sticking paper; a small notepad and a ballpoint pen.

          Double speech marks are used to indicate direct speech. They are opened before the first word that is spoken and closed after the final word that is actually spoken. A full stop, comma, question mark or exclamation mark should be placed after the last word but before the closing speech marks. Words and phrases such as 'she said' and 'he asked' are not included within the speech marks. A quotation used within direct speech can be placed in single inverted commas. Indirect or reported speech does not require the use of speech marks. Here are one or two examples:

          "Will you remember to pick Robert up on your way home?" she asked.
          He replied, "I've never forgotten to pick him up."

          "Who first said, 'Variety is the spice of life'? Answer me that!" he challenged us.

          They told us that it was too soon to make a reservation. (This is reported or indirect speech that does not need speech marks.)

          In dialogue, start a new line every time there is a new speaker.

          APOSTROPHES '
          Apostrophes are perhaps the most misused of all punctuation marks. They have two uses: the first is for contraction, indicating missing letters in shortened words; the second is for possession, where there is an element of ownership or belonging. Examples:

          The doctor's surgery was empty. (only one doctor)
          The dogs' paws were covered in mud. (more than one dog)
          The children's books were all over the floor. (The apostrophe is before the s, because the plural form children does not have an s.)
          James's house was burgled last night.

          The only exception regarding apostrophes for possession is its. It's with an apostrophe means it is or it has. If its means belonging to it, no apostrophe is used, as in this example:

          The cat washed its face.

          Examples of apostrophes used for contraction are don't, didn't, can't, isn't, shouldn't, I've, you're, they're, it's.

          ELLIPSIS ...
          Three successive full stops or periods, known as an ellipsis, can be used to indicate an unfinished sentence.

          A pair of dashes can be used to separate a phrase or clause within a sentence that could be omitted and leave a sentence that would still make sense. The separated phrase or clause usually adds extra information to the sentence, for example:

          I'll wear my red shoes - the ones I bought in Italy last summer - as long as it doesn't rain.

          HYPHEN -
          A short hyphen is used between two words to form a compound word. Not all compound words require hyphens, but a dictionary will tell you whether or not one is needed.

          Capital letters are not strictly speaking punctuation, but of course every sentence must start with a capital letter. The first word in direct speech must always have a capital letter, even if the spoken words are not at the very beginning of a sentence. Proper nouns should always have a capital letter; these includes names of people and places, days of the week, months of the year, titles of books or films, and so on.


          Some may think this is just being pedantic, but if we can make more of an effort to speak and write our language correctly, then why not do so?

          There always seems to be confusion between 'less' and 'fewer'. 'Less' is used with uncountable nouns, in other words those that cannot be made plural. Some examples are less rice, less noise, less happiness. If you are using a noun in the plural, use 'fewer' instead of 'less': fewer people, fewer than ten items, fewer problems, fewer potatoes.

          When to use 'I' and when to use 'me'.
          It is wrong to say, for example, 'Me and Fred went to town,' because 'me' cannot be the subject of the verb. You should say 'Fred and I went to town' - it is also more polite of course to say the other person's name first. However, it is wrong to say 'This is for you and I,' because you wouldn't say 'This is for I', would you? The correct way is to say 'This is for you and me.'

          Its and it's - no its'
          It's with the apostrophe is only used when the meaning is 'it is', for example if you say 'It's raining'. Its means 'belonging to it', and has no apostrophe, as in 'The cat chased its tail'. The form its' (apostrophe after the s) is never used.

          Like - as
          Like is perhaps one of the most over-used words in the English language. It should not be used as a conjunction; instead we can use 'as': you don't write as I do. We can use 'like' as a verb, of course, and also as a preposition, for example, 'My brother is not like me'.

          Who's or whose?
          Who's means who is or who has, for example, 'Who's going out?' or 'Who's taken my book?' Whose means belonging to who, as in the sentence 'Whose coat is this?'

          Neither ..... nor /None - singular verb
          It is incorrect to say 'neither Jim nor Sue have enough time'. We should used a singular verb after neither...... nor: 'Neither Jim nor Sue has enough time'. Similarly, it is correct to say 'None of the animals is sick,' because none means not one.

          The better of two, the best of three
          We cannot use the superlative form, such as best, worst, most, etc., when comparing only two things. The superlative is used for comparing three or more. When there are only two, we must use the comparative form, for example better, worse, more: Sarah is the better behaved of the two girls.

          Between or among?
          We share things between two people, but if there are more than two, we share things among them.

          Easier, but not more
          If we add the suffix -er to an adjective to make the comparative form, we should not use 'more' as well. It is therefore correct to say 'This exercise is easier than that one', but not 'This exercise is more easier than that one'.

          The reason is that...
          The word 'reason' implies the meaning 'because', so there is no need to say 'The reason is because.....' We should say 'the reason is that.....'

          We should be obliged if.....
          'We should be' means 'we ought to be', so it is correct to say 'we would be obliged if you could let us know.....'

          Listen carefully to the way people speak, and see how many mistakes you can spot!

          First posted as two separate reviews on Ciao, February 2007, under my username denella.


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            20.11.2008 00:24
            Very helpful



            Apostrophes are only necessary when they are

            The heading on this article could be interpreted as covering many or all aspects of English grammar and punctuation, but my intent is just to concentrate on the use and mis-use of apostrophes.

            This hopefully is a very short article, and it's me preaching, right up there on my soapbox. Feel free to view this with as much offense as you wish.....none is intended, but I don't blame you if you take umbrage, and I thus offer my apologies.

            How many of you out there get very frustrated with the mis-use of apostrophes? It's something which I don't know if some people have blinked and missed the concept of, or if it's just something they have never been taught.

            Apostrophes signify either possession, or an indication of accepted word shortening. There is absolutely no need to use an apostrophe when merely adding an S to the end of the word just to make it plural.

            For example:

            1) Possession indicator

            Jack's television = correct (Jack is a single person)
            The girls' television = correct (the girls are more than one person)
            Children's society = correct (children is the singular of a collective)

            2) Abbreviation indicator

            It's raining outside = correct (the apostrophe denotes the omitted letter 'i', and shortens the phrase 'it is raining outside' to 'it's raining outside')

            Give the dog its dinner = correct (no apostrophe needed, as no abbreviation occurs)

            Give the dog it's dinner = incorrect. The addition of an apostrophe makes nonsense of the phrase, because it turns it into....'Give the dog it is dinner'.


            SPOT THE ERRORS..........

            Fish and chip's
            P's and Q's
            Fun and game's
            Orange's and lemon's

            Tonights the night
            Lifes for living
            Mines a gin
            Tomorrows another day
            Peters coat is blue


            Fish and chips
            Ps and Qs
            Fun and games
            Oranges and lemons

            Tonight's the night (e.g. Tonight IS the night)
            Life's for living (e.g. Life IS for living)
            Mine's a gin (e.g. Mine IS a gin)
            Tomorrow's another day (e.g. Tomorrow IS another day)
            Peter's coat is blue (e.g. The coat belonging to Peter is blue)


            There is a section on the BBC website where you can test your knowledge of apostrophes, and if anybody fancies testing theirs, the link is:-


            Even if you are good with apostrophes (as opposed to apostrophe's!!!!), it's a fun quiz to do.

            I hope the above hasn't (= has not!! lol) come across as too arrogant or preachy, and thanks (not thank's lol) for reading!

            Wow how on earth do I star-rate this article? I'll (= I will) give it just the one, in sympathy with those who have problems understanding apostrophe mis-use.

            EDITORY FOOTNOTE: In the word 'punctuation' which appears in the above link, there is a space.....this space only appears when I submit the article - not on my original draft.


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