The Language Garden: The Apostrophe Hummingbird

Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynn Truss
I have been re-reading ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ by Lynne Truss.

Glutton for punishment?

Hardly.

Like the majority of authors, I constantly hone and refine my skills. There is no ‘quick grow’ method to sound writing. No short-cut or easy season. Study time, butt-in-chair effort to learn basic and advance grammar is still the most effective method for a good crop of sentences.

As to EATS, SHOOTS, AND LEAVES: if you haven’t read Lynne’s witty take on grammar and its sad decline, you are in for a treat. She entertains and educates – no easy feat.

If you’re new to writing, then best advice: learn the grammar rules.

A past critique partner, albeit a brilliant woman, continually brought her weekly pages with numerous grammatical errors. When we groused, as writers are want to do, about the continual mistakes, she informed us that learning all those pesky rules slowed her creativity and she knew we’d correct her anyway.

NEWSFLASH TO NEWBIES

**Your writing buddies, your critique partners, and heaven forbid, your readers don’t want to slog through your grammatical mistakes.**
FIRST – SINGLE OUT THE GRAMMAR PROBLEM

Start simple: pick one aspect that you ‘just’ don’t get and research that grammar rule. There are scads of grammar research sites.

My suggestion is check a couple of sites. Not all research sites are created equal — true. But often when you study from more than (1) source, a real understanding of the rule will become clear.
Simply put: the rule will just make sense.

So, to Single it out: In this case, let’s talk about the Apostrophe. NOT all aspects of its use: JUST ONE.

The tiny apostrophe is actually quite a work-horse in grammar. Perhaps, I should liken it to a hummingbird. Always around, busy, and cheerful if used correctly.

SECOND & THIRD: STUDY THE USAGE & STAY FOCUSED

Here’s my exact point: there are hundreds of articles/blogs/grammar quips written about the Apostrophe and its multiple usages. It would be easy — ridiculously so — to become overwhelmed. You started with a purpose to learn more about the apostrophe so pick (1) aspect, study the usage, then stay focused on that aspect.

Don’t cross your eyes and click off this blog. I have no intention of sending you into GRAMMAR doldrums with a list of apostrophe purposes.

One aspect: Plural Possessive (a plural word that needs to show it ‘possesses’ something.) The house of Cassey = Cassey’s house; The pencil of the boy = the boy’s pencil. Got it. Except in the case, we’re talking about plural possession. ****

  • Very specifically –
    A) men
    B) women
    C) children
    D) oxen
    E) brethren (general usage in today’s time to denote spiritual brothers. Depending on the religion or denomination, women can be brethren as well.)
    F) neofen (newcomers to science fiction; fans who are extremely new and inexperienced with the genre.) Wiktionary
    G) kneen (obsolete form of knees – plural) Your Dictionary

There is the school of thought that ‘chicken’ belongs in this list; that chicken is the plural for chick. However, Old English scholars believe that ‘. . . chicken, the –en ending isn’t a plural, but a diminutive, expressing small size or affection, which also turns up in kitten and maiden.’ World Wide Words

TO our lesson: Is it Men’s Locker Room? Or Mens’ Locker Room?

As MEN is already plural, more than one man can go into that smelly, sock-infested locker room and hang out, doing whatever men do in that inner sanctum, and it’s all good. Therefore, Men’s Locker Room will nicely suffice.

Was it the Women’s Suffrage Movement? Or the Womens’ Suffrage Movement?

Again, WOMEN is already plural; the apostrophe goes BEFORE the ‘s’. Women’s history can be charted back to the early start of women’s rights when female abolitionist activists gathered and gave birth to the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Note where to place the apostrophe. The PLURAL of women stands quite nicely on its own.

Should we name the new play area: Children’s Playground or Childrens’ Playground?

By now, the pattern should be clear.

In your writing, if the word is already plural through the use of an ‘–en’ ending, then any possession must take place with an added apostrophe then ‘s’.

Some are blatantly common: MEN, WOMEN, and CHILDREN.

Some are dated, almost part of our quietly buried English language: KNEEN, BREATHEN, and OXEN.

Others are new to our language: NEOFEN.

FOURTH & FINALLY, SIMPLY SCRIBE SENTENCES (that means WRITE).

Practice this Grammar Rule. Set aside 5 minutes a day, study the rule and practice a few sentences. Make the new Grammar Rule a HABIT.
Personally, if I find it’s a rule that continually boggles my mind, I won’t just research it, or practice, but I’ll write it up in my ‘HOW TO’ folder. I’ll include links, diagrams, and my OWN explanation of the rule. From my brain, through my fingertips, and onto page: the rule becomes mine. (Feel free to steal this trick if it will work for you. My HOW TO folder is massive with all sorts of tips and insights. Word of caution: dumb down naming your research. There’s nothing worse than knowing that you saved tidbits and then can’t find them.)

In the garden of language, new words sprout and bud; their usages, and meanings offering color to a black and white landscape. Grammar rules are the raised beds, the lattice work, bits of string and twine that allow our ever-evolving language to blossom.
Like a Meandering? Please share.

Be the first to reply

Leave a Reply