Possessed by possessives

Let’s review possessives. Keep in mind I’m a Chicago gal (as in Chicago Manual of Style) so I use their conventions. If you use a different style guide, you can find those guidelines in your manual.

Michael Jones owns a car. It’s Michael Jones’s car. (Add the ‘s. You say it when you speak, so type or write it, too.)

Michael and Sarah Jones own a house together. It’s the Joneses’ house. (Joneses is the plural of Jones. Add just an apostrophe, because plural possessives don’t take the additional S.

Michael’s work is Mr. Jones’s job. Sarah’s is Mrs. Jones’s job.

And I’ll bet they have separate toothbrushes, so there’s Michael’s and Sarah’s toothbrushes. BUT, they probably own the TV in the parlor jointly, so that’s Michael and Sarah’s TV. (Or Sarah and Michael’s TV. Let them sort that out.)

If they have a friend named Jesus Garcia, and he’s got a car too, that’s Jesus’s car. If you’re talking about the Biblical figure Jesus, you don’t add the S; that’s considered a “classical or historical name,” and those take just the apostrophe. Moses’ tent. Xerxes’ troops. Jesus’ birth.

And I’ll leave it at that. If you have questions, comment and I’ll respond as I have time. It’s copy-editing day here.

A market for farmers

I missed the #ACESchat on Twitter yesterday, but I caught up afterward and was happy to see all the discussion about apostrophes creeping in where they really don’t belong (but being accepted regardless). The two big examples discussed were “farmers/farmers’/farmer’s market” and “Veterans/Veterans’/Veteran’s Day.”

First off: If the VA says it’s “Veterans Day,” that’s what it is. They get to decide that, not us. We might be unhappy, but come on. It’s akin to telling someone their name is misspelled because you don’t like the variation they use. Get over it.

It’s a day to honor veterans. The day doesn’t belong to veterans, so there’s no reason for an apostrophe (singular OR plural possessive).

Of course that logic breaks down with “Mother’s Day” and “Father’s Day.” Those are days for honoring parents, but they’re possessive. Because English. Get over it. Check your preferred style guide and move on. Thanks.

Now, as for “farmers market”: Again, it doesn’t belong to the farmers. It’s there for the farmers to sell their produce, wares, whatever. Same as with [fill in the blank] union. Teamsters union. Service workers union. Teachers union. The union is there for the benefit of the workers. It doesn’t belong to them. No need for the possessive form. CMoS says “farmers’ market,” so that’s what I would use if I were being paid to conform to style. However, I personally prefer “farmers market” with no apostrophe. There’s a general moving away from apostrophe usage in this kind of construction, these days. Yay for living language and the attendant mechanics!

Then we come to “children’s hospital.” By the same logic, it should be “children hospital.” But that sounds wrong, looks wrong, and so on — because it’s never been styled that way, that I can find. It’s always plural possessive. The hospital doesn’t belong to the children; it’s for the use/benefit of the children. Like “animal hospital.” Why don’t we say “animals’ hospital” then? Because English. Suck it up, buttercup, check your stylebook, and move on.

The longer I’m in this business, the more strongly I consider one question above all the others: Will the reader know and understand what the words mean? Will the difference between “farmers’ market” and “farmers market” cause confusion? If the answer is “no,” I don’t worry about it. (Again, unless I’m being paid to conform to a specific style manual.)


I feel it necessary to thank the following for their input during the ACES chat on 12/3/14, since that chat and their thoughts inspired me to create this post: Mededitor, MANUAL OF HULK, and DriftingEarth.

In days of . . . you’re? No . . . your? Nope . . .


Here’s another by-request post, the subject of which you’ve already guessed. (I’m sure of this. You’re smart people.) I know I did a usage tip about this within the last year, but it’s been lost to the sands of time (and Google), so . . . once more into the breach, dear friends.

Your. You’re. Yore. Two of those are personal pronouns. One is a noun. (And, honestly, I don’t see the noun confused for the pronouns very often, myself — but the issue was brought up, so I’ll discuss it. That’s how I roll.)

Your is the second-person singular and plural possessive pronoun. “Watch your step.” It denotes a thing belonging to “you,” whether “you” is one person or many people. (I’ve written before about “thee/thou” and “ye.” Modern English has no separate second-person singular pronoun. “Thee/thou” went out of style. It’s all you, as they say.)

You’re is the contraction for “you are.” (I know you all know this, too, but I’m something of a completist so I’m saying it all again.) The apostrophe replaces the “a” from “are.” When you see an apostrophe, you can be sure the word is either a possessive or a contraction. (There are a very few exceptions to this, but that’s a different post, I think. I don’t want to muddy the waters here.)

Yore is a noun meaning  “time past and especially long past.” (Thank you, Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.) Nowadays it’s often used in a mock-nostalgic sense. It is also noted as being “chiefly literary.” In other words, you aren’t likely to find it in an article in Time Magazine. Interestingly, yore was an adverb in Middle English, but a noun in Old English. I’ll let you poke around on the internet and find out the details for yourselves if you’re so inclined.

I’ll also note here that I’ve never gotten a request about your/you’re that included “yore” from a US writer — only from those in the UK or Canada (so far). I’m not sure what that says, aside from “US writers do not appear to be prone to using the word yore.”

In days of yore, your daily bread was made from grain you grew yourself. You’re in a much better position today, I dare say.

Demons and possession (but not that kind)

I was talking about video games recently (and wondering if I dared take the plunge into Skyrim, at long last) and was reminded of a classic action role-playing game called Demon’s Souls. Here’s the cover:

I played this game a few years ago and loved it. Basically, the object is to explore the world, kill a bunch of tough boss monsters (which are referred to as demons, though they certainly aren’t demons in the traditional sense), and use the power of their souls to level up. Extremely challenging, yes, but just as rewarding and compelling. However, one thing about the game really bugged me: the title.

The use of the apostrophe-S suggests that there is one demon, and it has multiple souls. But the game is lousy with demons. Why isn’t it called Demons’ Souls? Or, if you think the ending apostrophe looks bad (even though it would be correct), what’s wrong with just Demon Souls?

Singular possessives and plural possessives are two different things, and the placement of the apostrophe matters. If a house belongs to one college student, it’s the student’s house. If it is shared by a number of students, it’s the students’ house.

It gets a little trickier (but not much) when the subject is already plural. For example, a clothing store’s sign for “Men’s Department” is correct because the word “men” is plural.

Worse yet is when the subject ends in the letter S. If you’re talking about Lois Lane’s attempts to prove that Clark Kent is Superman, do you call them Lois’s attempts or Lois’ attempts? I go with the former, which is also recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style: add the apostrophe-S. The fact that the subject happens to end in S doesn’t matter. (Also, look at the second option–if you came across that while reading, how would you pronounce it? How did you pronounce it in your mind when you saw it just above? Did you say “Lois” or “Lois-ez”?)

By the way, the sequel to Demon’s Souls was released last year. The new game was titled Dark Souls. Much better.



Baby puppies and High Velocity Angry Canaries

Many years ago, when I worked for Scott, Foresman and Company (yes, the Dick and Jane people), editorial seminars were de rigueur. At one such gathering, we received handouts containing examples of “baby puppies.” Regrettably, I no longer have the handout, and none of the other examples stuck with me like that one did. However, I can still discuss the concept–and how my view has changed over time.

We were told in no uncertain terms to avoid redundancies such as “baby puppies.” And, dutifully, we excised them from our texts. Luckily for those of us in the nascent Electronic Publishing Division (now extinct), our work seldom included such things. We dealt with user manuals for educational computer games and school management software. That gave us whole other grammatical and usage-related jungles to hack through with our CMoS-issued machetes, but very few “baby puppies.” I felt cheated, sometimes.

Now, I have a different perspective. Yes, a puppy is a young dog. But not all puppies are babies, are they? Some are nearly a year old, and certainly no longer deserving of the “baby” descriptor. Those little cuties who aren’t yet weaned, though–they’re baby puppies, for sure. The same logic applies to baby kittens. Baby kittens are itty-bitty furballs with tiny, high-pitched mews. And hypodermic-needle-sharp claws and milk teeth.

When I was forced to take a creative writing section in high-school English, I used the phrase “bone-dry dust.” In large (not-so-friendly) red letters in the margin, the instructor wrote “What other kind is there?” So much for my creative writing. That pretty much killed what little interest I’d had to start with, to be honest. Even at that age I was much happier fixing poor grammar and mechanics than trying to be creative. At least I didn’t have to go through that again.

We still find examples from the Department of Redundancy Department, often in the chromakeyed lower-third crawls on local news programming. “Fatally killed” is a common one. “Fatally shot,” fine. “Fatally stabbed,” sure. “Fatally killed” just makes someone who (thankfully) remains faceless and nameless look foolish (while being faceless, which is a pretty cool feat all by itself, isn’t it?).

Another issue pointed out on the handout for that particular seminar was assuming that your editor/proofreader knows what you’re talking about. The example was from a brochure for a heating and air-conditioning business. The copy used the acronym “HVAC,” and the senior editor had noted “write out” in the margin. A junior editor got the project next, and took a shot at the meaning without looking it up (this predated the Internet, you see–it would’ve meant physically moving around in search of a reference book or someone else who knew the information). That’s how the phrase “High Velocity Angry Canaries” found its way into one version of the brochure in question. No word on whether it actually saw print. One would hope it did not. (For anyone who doesn’t know, HVAC stands for “heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning.”)

If by chance you’ve written a technically-oriented piece, please do your editor a solid (ooh, I’m trendy!) and provide a file of the specialized vocabulary you used. That will save everyone involved time and frustration, and potentially could save you (the writer) money as well–because your editor won’t have to dither around looking up information you’d have been better off providing yourself. This is also true for fantasy/science-fiction writers, truth to tell. If you’ve made up a number of alien races, providing a file containing the names of each (spelled, capitalized, punctuated the way you want them) will save your editor hours of headaches wondering whether the right form is “Graz’zyt” or “Grazz’yt.” (And honestly? Apostrophes have been done to death. Please consider not using them in proper nouns. Thank you.) Also please include proper names of any members of those races, with correct mechanics and spelling. Extrapolate as you will from what I’ve said here and decide what else you need to apply this to. I have confidence in you. I really do.

And editors? Don’t be afraid to ask your writer about providing such a file. They might grouse and grumble at first, but once you’re deep into the project and you don’t have to harass them daily with questions such as how they really want to spell “Graz’zyt,” they’ll thank you. (And if they don’t, shame on them.)

Until next time, then, I hope you all have as much baby puppy face time as you wish. (Or baby kitten face time, if that’s your thing. Or baby something else. Maybe you don’t even like babies, in which case–okay. I need to go now.)


Back to basics

Thanks to Anthony Gaff (garrmusic.com) for sharing this one with me. He saw it while out and about today and snapped the pic just for the blog.

As I said, we’re back to basics–both in terms of why Ray and I started this blog, and in grammatical terms. “Yours” is the possessive form, people. “Your’s” is–well, it’s wrong. It’s not even a word. It’s meaningless, to be blunt.

So–play the Indiana lottery if you want, but for heaven’s sake stop putting apostrophes everywhere as if you were salting your dinner plate!

Looks like we need to go back to basics.

It’s horrific, but not the way they’d like

So I’m watching my Twitter feed this afternoon and I see John Scalzi’s Tweets about some cute Goth girl, and a couple of links. I dutifully clickity-click on one of them and I see . . .


As with my post about Cooperstown’s menus, I won’t attempt to enumerate the problems on this site. I’ll just let you folks wander around alone in the dark (it’s a really dark site–the background’s black, dark purple, and green–but at least the type is white) and find the horrors for yourselves.

This is just one more case where a copy editor/proofreader would have helped more than the site owners can even imagine (I think–perhaps they can imagine how much, but I have a feeling they can’t). Seriously, there are typos on every page I looked at. Now, okay, I understand that this is a public-access show, but still, people; hire a proofreader before you slap your copy up on a website, please? That way you won’t have egregious errors like “Sheboygen,” or “synopsis’s” (again with the apostrophe-s masquerading as a plural? Again?) or any of the others I found that I’m sure you will find as well.

I’ve half a mind to Contact Them and offer to proof their site, to bring their quality up a notch. Only half a mind, though. This is a horror movie show, y’know?