U Suck @ Grammer: Apostrophe Edition

U SUCK @ GRAMMER* is a column I write (with editing help from my friend Ashley because you guys are super critical) that teaches a basic grammar lesson.  It's usually based on major blunders and personal pet peeves that I've witnessed recently.  Previously,  we've looked at what the hell "biweekly" means, the tricky difference between "affect" and "effect," and where to put "I" instead of "me."  Today, we're going to branch out into punctuation, usage, and the philosophy behind this usage. Today I bring you:

U SUCK @ GRAMMER: Apostrophes as Omissions

The apostrophe is a useful little tool for clarifying writing, but unfortunately it's also one of the most widely abused and misused punctuation marks.  It seems that people sometimes recognize (from a lifetime of readin' and writin') that there should be an apostrophe somewhere in a word, but are still unclear on exactly where it goes.  Unfortunately, the solution often resorted to when the exact location of the apostrophe is unclear is just to put it wherever the fuck you want ("PWFYW"), which is, of course, less than ideal.  This article is going to attempt to explain at least one oft-misplaced use of the apostrophe, and, in doing so, seek to find a cure for what I am going to dub "PWFYW-syndrome."

The problem is that an apostrophe can be used for many different purposes, and its placement within a word depends on its function in the word.  Misuse seems to stem most frequently from confusion over whether one is adding an apostrophe to signal an omission or to make a word possessive.  Perhaps because the latter is more common, many people make the possessive location their default, even if the word is not possessive.


Dates are a frequent victim of this blunder (and a personal pet peeve of mine), so we'll look at them first.  Instead of saying, "Mad Men takes place in the 'nineteen sixties,'" sometimes you want to say, more colloquially, "the sixties."  The numeric version of "the sixties" omits the "nineteen" portion and replaces it with an apostrophe.  Therefore, "the sixties" written numerically should look like this:

the '60s

because we are taking out [19]60s and replacing it with [']60s. It should not look like:

the 60's

EVER because the 60's are not owning anything.  If you get confused, think about the fact that you would write it out: "these are the best tunes of the sixties," not the "these are the best tunes of the sixty's."  Right? Right.


Another frequently misused instance of the apostrophe-as-omission is in the ubiquitous southern colloquialism, "y'all."  Y'all is a contraction of the words "you" and "all," and is formed by dropping the "ou" from "you" and smushing it together (to use a Jersey Shore term) with "all."  Therefore, an apostrophe is added to replace the "ou," meaning the correct form of "y'all" should look like:


and NOT:


I'm not sure how this second bastardization of the spelling started (one blogger suggests that it's because the verbalization sounds like "yawl" which lends itself to be written ya'll?), but it has been adopted with alarming frequency across the South.  I see it on store signs all the time, and recently have seen it on more than one wedding chalkboard ("this way to the reception, ya'll"), which is almost as embarrassing as the time a professional blog described a wedding as "classic, sheik, and feminine." 

Wonderfully, the grammatical term for what happens when two adjacent vowel sounds, one at the end of a word and one at the beginning of the word, link up to become one combined diphthong, is called a "crasis."  So now, the next time someone writes "ya'll,"  you can muster your best Southern accent and respond, "oh my God, y'all, it's a grammar crasis!"  And you'll still be totally correct.


But far and away the biggest offender is the contraction "you're."   You see, the possessive of "you," as in, "you own this," is "your."  But equally common is the contraction of the expression "you are," i.e., "you're."  Forgive me, those of you to whom this seems rudimentary, but the totally egregious and frequent interchanging of these two different words gives me pause:  I won't just assume anyone knows this rule, because I read too many Facebook statuses.  Take this sentence:

"You are going to lend me your copy of The Wire when you are finished watching it, right?" 

could also be written as

"You're going to lend me your copy of The Wire when you're finished watching it?"


"Your going to lend me you're copy of The Wire when your finished watching it." 

This one should be the easiest to learn: it's not a tricky, seldom-used date; it's not a slang term with fuzzy origins.  It's just two different words, "your" and "you are," the latter just has its vowels replaced by an apostrophe to make sayin' it easier. YES, I understand they SOUND the same when you say them out loud, but just because they are homophones doesn't mean that you can WRITE them the same way.

 Here is a great example that is surprisingly NOT stolen from my own iPhone: 

So, just like we did when learning whether to say "I" or "me" in a sentence, before you type, stop and think for a moment: am I saying "you are" or "you own?"  And then apply an apostrophe accordingly.  Oh shit, now you guys are going to start saying "y'wn" aren't you?  I hate y'all. 

I love this so much.

Addendum: Here's someone I don't hate: the guys who put together ApostropheAbuse.com

*Grammar is intentionally spelled incorrectly as "grammer" in the title to parody ironically incorrect use of the word. Don't be a douchenozzle and try to point out that we spelled it wrong. 

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Write comments
April 26, 2012 at 12:11 PM delete

You spelled grammar wrong.

April 26, 2012 at 12:47 PM delete

Should there be a hyphen in douche-nozzle?

April 26, 2012 at 12:56 PM delete

So, thanks for posting about y'all v. ya'll. I always (well, almost never) spelled it y'all, but I started to think I was crazy because everyone (well, my Southern Facebook friends) spells it ya'll! Which doesn't make sense but, hey, neither does talking like a redneck. (As I'm typing this comment, every "ya'll" is underlined to indicate its misspelling.)

Incidentally - "everyone spells" or "everyone spell"? One is obviously singular, but does every imply a group of more than one. And if so, which word takes precedence in the subject-verb agreement?!

April 30, 2012 at 6:38 PM delete

It's gotta be 1L's. It's replacing the "aw student" in "law students".

But by all this logic, if I had to make a reference to sextoys owned by 1L's in the '60s, it'd be:

"The '60s' 1L's' sextoys."

May 21, 2012 at 12:02 PM delete

I think "sex toys" is two words.


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