There's nothing about tatting in today's post, and it's a long one. However, I did say that my blog would occasionally be about "whatever else comes up", and this is something I just have to get off my chest. If you're bored by this post, you probably really need to read it. :)
I went to school in days of yore, when children in English-speaking countries were expected to- get this- learn English. Reading some of what shows up on the internet is thus quite painful to me. I see mistakes everywhere, including the sites of big corporations, which you would think would employ professional copy editors. Why, why, WHY do people think that grammar and puctuation are not important in an electronic medium? If anything, they are more important; your audience can't see your facial expressions or hear your tone of voice, so you must make your meaning abundantly clear. The position that "they know what I meant" doesn't cut it with me. I might be able to guess what you meant, or I might not. It is a matter of respect and consideration for your readers not to make them guess. Here is a classic example of how punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence:
A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
As you can see, the same words in the same order can mean complete opposite things depending on the punctuation. If I simply write, "A woman without her man is nothing" it's anybody's guess what I mean. Should my feminist sensibilities be offended? Should my male readers be offended? I don't know, and neither do you. Punctuate it, and the meaning will be clear.
There was a case in British law where the lawyers were debating the meaning of a law based on whether there was or was not a comma in it. A man was actually hanged (not hung, but hanged) because it was decided that the law did not contain a comma. For the full story, see the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, a very entertaining and educational read. (Why won't Blogger let me use italics in my link?)
Here's another example of how just one punctuation mark can make all the difference:
Those old things in the corner are my husbands.
As written, this sentence means, roughly, "I have several husbands. They are elderly, I regard them as objects rather than people, and they are sitting in the corner." Let's try it this way:
Those old things in the corner are my husbands'.
This one means, "I have several husbands, and the battered objects in the corner belong to them collectively." Let's give it one more try:
Those old things in the corner are my husband's.
Ah, that's better. Now it means, "I have one husband, and the battered objects in the corner belong to him."
This brings me to the subject of today's rant: plurals, possessives, and the correct use of the apostrophe in general. The poor, lonely apostrophe. It is abused by some and neglected by others, and yet when used correctly, it can do so much to clarify a sentence. It's really not hard, either.
To form a plural noun, you do not need an apostrophe. Now, don't argue with me; you just don't. In most cases, the plural is formed simply by adding an s (es if the word already ends in s, z, or x) to the end of the word. For example: things, corners, husbands, boxes. Sometimes, you have to change the spelling of the word a little bit; the plural of wife is wives. Sometimes the word changes altogether and there is no s at all: children, geese, feet. Occasionally, a word may be the same in both the singular and plural forms; you may have one sheep or many sheep. For the most part, though, adding s or es will get you through. The bottom line for the purpose of my discussion is, DON'T PUT A BLOODY APOSTROPHE IN A PLURAL WORD!
To form the possessive of a singular noun, add 's. That's right, you may use the apostrophe now. The word husband's means belonging to my (one) husband. Possessive words nearly always have an apostrophe. I can only think of six exceptions, and I will list them in a bit.
To form the plural possessive of a noun, add s'. Use the apostrophe, and put it in the right place. The word husbands' means belonging to my (two or more) husbands. Now, it does get a bit muddy here. For those weird nouns that don't form their plural by adding s, you will form the plural possessive by adding 's to the plural form: children's.
There you go. Four rules. Surely you can remember that many.
The other place where apostrophes should be used is where certain letters are omitted, as in contractions. For example, can't for cannot, doesn't for does not, and she'd for she would or she had.
Now, remember I told you there are six possessive words that don't take an apostrophe? Here they are. Memorize them. The possessive of I is my. The possessive of he is his. The possessive of she is her. Everyone gets these three right. The other three are trickier, because they are often confused with other words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean something different as well. The possessive of you is your; you're is the contraction of you are. The possessive of they is their; they're is the contraction of they are (and there refers to a place). Finally, the one that bugs me the most, and the one I see most often: the possessive of it is its; it's is the contraction of it is or it has. It's very important that you know how to form both the plural of a word and its possessive. See? It's not hard.
OK, end of rant. And no, anal retentive does not have a hyphen. And read Lynne Truss's book. Really.
Ah, I feel better now.