Monday, January 28, 2008

Pesky Apostrophe's-- In the Spirit Of the Aforementioned Video

Has anyone else noticed that many individual's wield apostrophe's carelessly? When writing about Eddies car, people just don't know that because the car belong's to Eddie, Eddie is awarded an apostrophe preceding the 's'! Peer reviewing paper's in a 300 level class is disheartening in this regard, due to the constant smudging of the distinction between possessive and plural. I just cant' read any more papers which do'nt know where to put the apostrophe in a contraction, either. Misuse of apostrophe's has stripped the beauty from the English language, making they're appearance in inopportune places, along with incorrect form's of "their". There correct usage has tragically become rarer, making college paper's painful to red.


Cman said...

Hi Sarah,

I was very amused at your thought's concerning the use of the apostrophe. I believe that you have a firm handle on the concept; therefore, I will be sending you my next stack English essay's for grading. Please disregard capitalization error's, fragment's, and a total lack of understanding of thematic content. Just "red" them and concentrate on punctuation. Feel free to add comment's, though the student's will ignore them and continue to make the same mistake's.


Vertigo said...

Is the improper use of the word 'then' more annoying then the improper use of an apostrophe?

Doug Groothuis said...


Read "Eats Shoots and Leaves" by L. Truss on punctuation; it is very funny and apt. I am using it as a textbook for Writing for Publication this term at DS.

Sarah Scott said...

Dear future father-in-law,

Haha! Excellent thought's; it is a shame the student's do'nt take note of the comment's on they're essay's.

That's a very good one, excessively common and annoying. I will have to ponder the comparison of annoyance level between the two... :)


Thanks! I ordered it on Amazon after Christmas. Unfortunately, I had it shipped to Dallas, so it is up to my wonderful parents to mail it (and others) back to me.

I'm looking foward to taking that class in the future!

Tom said...

My pet peeve along these lines is the spelling of "y'all" as "ya'll." I can't believe how many folks (even Southerners) make this mistake.

Daniel said...

The mistake of using their, there, and they're is also annoying.

I think we get overdependent on Word and its (notice, not apostrophe ;) use of pointing out grammatical and spelling errors with squiggly red and green lines. Unfortunately, it doesn't catch everything.

Doug Groothuis said...

Spell checks and automated editing have destroyed writing. They shape how we write. It is tempting to change a long, but grammatical sentence, just to get the grammer check to shut up. Spell check cannot compete with a good knowledge of spelling.

We are more tempted to have a mindless machine edit us than another living human being.

Anonymous said...

I can't say that many of my classmates are illiterate. Nor are they unable to write. I think that part of the problem is due to low standards. Too many colleges accept students who are incapable of basic reading, writing, and math. While tests such as the SAT and GRE are not perfect, they provide a basic standard to see if people mastered the rudiments of English and math.

I had the privilege of going to a good college, where all of my friends were in the 90th+ percentile (e.g. 1400 SAT's), and I could not imagine what it would be like to be with peers who misunderstand basic concepts.

Perhaps the university system needs revamping. As far as I know, Wheaton is the only conservative school that has minimal demands for college admission (1300 SAT's = c. 80th percentile or something?). Perhaps colleges should not admit who fail to meet a minimal standard (1200?) rather than watering things down with easy assignments. Maybe seminaries should have basic requirements (1400 on the GRE's) to make sure that future pastors have a modicum of intellectual horsepower, too.

Jim R. (Rice alum)

Tom said...

Well, we should be careful not to bow down to the gods of terrific testing and perfect punctuation. Inspiration and wisdom don't always conform to the best-laid norms.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, Taylor Mali has also presented a piece concerning the dangers of automated spell-checkers. I will post the link, though I should warn you - the last 60 seconds or so descend into a type of humor that should generally be avoided. The first two minutes ar'ent bad though (;-D)


Sarah Scott said...


As a Texan, I frequently have to explain "y'all" (including where to place the apostrophe) to my Colorado friends. :)

Dr. Groothuis,

Well put! In that sense (among other senses) it is unfortionate to have been born in the "Microsoft generation".

Jim R.,

SATs have little to do with "intellectual horsepower". We must be careful not to let the number scale rule.

Sarah Scott said...

Anthony, my articulate and highly literate friend,

Thanks! :-)

Jon said...

I just witnessed a "ya'll" with my own two eyes. Remind me, from which word is "ya" shortened? Yaou?

Also, always remember: Grammar check and spell check on Word was written by computer programmers. They are not trained to write prose; they are trained to write code. I find that there are many times when Word tells me I am wrong, though I am not.

Anonymous said...


There are several exceptions to the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Some people may be intelligent, but they grew up in the inner city and they never learned how to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic well at a young age. I’m aware of some of the exceptions. You should temper your statement a little about GRE [sic] scores. There is a general correlation and that is why graduate schools use them to evaluate applications. You are welcome to challenge the consensus and throw out SAT’s, MCAT’s, GRE’s, LSAT’s; many have done so, though I’m suspicious of some of the reasoning (insecurity with their own scores, affirmative action, arguing on the basis of exceptions, schools like Reed which eschews SAT’s but attracts brilliant students, etc…).

I think Tom anticipated these arguments and went with a different approach. He's correct, intelligence and education isn't the most important thing. But it certainly makes it easier to write coherently! (As per the blog post.) :)

Do you think it is a good idea to use a test that evaluates rudimentary English and math skills?

Sarah Scott said...

I am correcting my pathetic mispelling of "unfortunate" at this time. I am without excuse.


At the risk of seeming more cantankerous than I'd like (though that is not the intention), I maintain that high intelligence (even with a good education) and high test scores do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Justin said... that you? I'm just curious because of your odd obsession with SAT scores.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused Sarah. Cantankerous isn't the word you should use. It sounds awkward. Do you mean contrarian? Why do you disagree with the overwhelming consensus? Are you more of a purist that looks to IQ’s? I only chose the GRE’s (pace your early statement) because it tests knowledge and aptitude—not purely aptitude—to be more politically correct. Let me also state that I agree with Tom’s earlier statement. Intelligence and knowledge are not worthy of worship, but we should not jettison those idols. 

I already outlined some exceptions to the general rule, so I agree with your statement. The two do not necessarily go hand and hand; the correlation is only general. I am comfortable with a general rule that allows for some exceptions.

My point is very simple. The Scholastic Aptitude Test measures for basic, rudimentary ability with English. Students who score decently are able to see relationships between words, digest a piece of writing, etc... Those types of students learned the fundamental English rules.

I'm not saying that the SAT's or perfect, but it is a good measure of one's ability with the basics. I know that some students come to college poorly prepared work hard and develop their God-given intellect. For example, I have one friend from high school who did poorly on the SAT, but scored well on the GRE and made it into Harvard (!). From your example, it sounds like many of the students in this class came unprepared and remain so.

Let me state my question again: Do you think there ought to be an examination that tests whether students have basic skills in English in math? When I say basic, I mean basic (e.g. a 600 on each of the 3 sections).

Justin: I’m confused.

Anonymous said...

My little smiley faces didn't come through. You'll see where they should have been, viz. IQ's, idols, and two other places.

Tom said...

You know, I'm not sure anyone is really disagreeing with anyone here. All hands agree that the various standardized tests measure some kind of positive intellectual property. All hands also agree that there are other positive intellectual properties that they seem to miss.

Apart from all that, though, is the question about to what extent there is a correlation between good spelling/punctuation on the one hand and intelligence on the other. In my initial post it was that correlation that I meant to question--or if not question, at least to raise the possibility that there are many very bright people who are nevertheless poor spellers and who aren't quite sure what to do with the apostrophe.

Sarah Scott said...


Yes, cantankerous was what I meant to say, as I did not want to sound deliberately disagreeable. I was merely restating my point which I believe you misinterpereted. You and I are apparently speaking past each other, and I do not have time to straighten it out. Put simply, there is a place for standardized testing, but it does not necessarily determine a person's intelligence or education level (neither does the ability to spell and punctuate perfectly, i.e. someone with dyslexia).


I agree, wholeheartedly!

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. What did I misinterpret when you wrote, "At the risk of seeming more cantankerous than I'd like (though that is not the intention)?"

How could you have thought I misinterpreted your point when I never actually responded to anything? (Hint: I didn't respond to anything you wrote so there was nothing to misinterpret).

I've given you some fair questions that seem to annoy you deeply. Why is it that you are so suspicious of the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the Graduate Record Exam? (Did you perform poorly? If so, I'm sorry to have rankled any wounds or insecurities). Please don't do any hasty research--just give me the 1 paragraph gut reaction of what you already think.


Jon said...

Not to break the line of thought here, but I thought of some other pesky English mistakes that annoy me:

Misuse/overuse of the words "essentially", "practically", etc.

Misuse of the word "myself". Myself can be used either reflexively or as an intensifier. Period. (e.g., "You can talk to Rhonda and me," not, "You can talk to Rhonda and myself." Only I, myself, may talk to myself.)

"Seminary school." Seminary is a type of school. Therefore, "seminary school" is redundant.

I had to get that off my chest. I feel better now.

Sarah Scott said...


Don't apologize; you are diverting the discussion back to where it began, as a light-hearted rant (if there ever was such a thing)! Thank you.

Those are good ones which I hadn't thought about, but now that you mention them, I realize how prevalent they are. Ha!

Tom G said...

Its just too bad that this punctuation mark causes it's problems the way it does!

Sarah Scott said...


It's indeed too bad, misplaced apostrophe's cause all sort's of problem's. :-)