My Two Cents

Beryl Cuda on putting the apostrophe in its place

by Nov 17, 2011Craft, Grumbles9 comments

It riles me when writers can’t be bothered to put the apostrophe in its proper place. It’s not the worst mistake but it’s up there. Top ten territory.

One or two of you are saying, “Come on, get real. It’s a tiny squiggle, not the end of the world if I misplace it now and then.”

Oh yeah?

Think about this:  You’ve finished your novel – a fantastic story, exciting characters, plenty of conflict and tension, and a satisfying ending. You write a query to an agent, and you say:  “My novel is about a bank heist and it’s impact on a small town. Its set in the 1980’s.”

The agent immediately notices the three slips. She puts your query in the discard pile.

The apostrophe you ignored in school, the tiny squiggle you couldn’t be bothered to understand, just got even.

It’s amazing how an apostrophe can give some people so much grief. Especially when there are resources to consult about its proper usage. For example:

1.  Books.

Strunk and White deal with the apostrophe on page 1 of The Elements of Style. Page One. You don’t even need to consult the index, just open the book to page one and there it is. And they include a handy sentence to help people who make the most common mistake – confusing it’s and its:  “It’s a wise dog that scratches its own fleas.”  Also on page one.

2.  The Internet.

I searched “apostrophe use” and was rewarded with 5.8 million hits in a tenth of a second. University style guides, magazine articles, lecture notes, blogs, comics. One example of a university guide is Hamilton College, linked here.

3.  The official site of The Apostrophe Protection Society.

Yes, there really is one. It’s in England. Click on this link to see for yourself.

4.  A Poster.

One resource, The Oatmeal, will sell you a cool poster. Stick it on your wall, you won’t even have to bother with a book or the Internet.  Here’s a link.

I’ve heard some want to abolish the apostrophe. I don’t think that’s likely to happen any time soon. And in the meantime, agents and editors are still searching for writers who can write well. That probably means one of the things they evaluate in the submissions they read is whether the writer can put the apostrophe, that tiny squiggle, in its proper place.

Misused apostrophes. That’s what riles me today.

Until my next grumble: Don’t write good – write well.

About Beryl:

Beryl Cuda, in her own words:  Many things in life rile me. Like dirty laundry blocking the path to the wine cellar. Bad wine. Weak coffee. Rain for five days straight. Lost luggage. You get the idea. So I recognized a fine opportunity when I was invited to write the occasional post for My Two Cents. I mean, seriously, what grumbler wouldn’t want to let her gripes have a little air. Breathe like a bottle of good red. I was all over  it. Then the head honcha of this blog tells me to restrict my posts to the topic of writing. Restrictions rile me. When I told her as much, she responded, “It’s my blog, my rules.” It’s just like Charlotte to play the “it’s my blog” card. That rankles me too. But there’s much about the way people today treat the English language that riles me more. Like using rotten grammar. And I wouldn’t mind expressing my views.  So I’ll play by Charlotte’s arbitrary rules.  For now.


  1. yi shun

    This will rile you even more. On my iPad, the autocorrect changes all of my “its” to “it’s.”
    Yes, I go red in the face and bark at it every single time, thusly: “F**k!!”

  2. Kim Lundstrom


    I’d add as a resource the engaging and funny *Eats, Shoots and Leaves* by Lynn Truss. You’ll never have a better time reading about punctuation.

  3. Beryl Cuda

    Kim, thanks for the reminder about that great book. I’m recommending you to Charlotte as a guest reviewer…..

  4. Beryl Cuda

    Hi YIShun – that’s interesting. My Macbook insisted on correcting the misplaced apostrophes in the query letter example – I had to force it to mess up!

  5. Iris Graville

    I had no idea there was so much support out there for those of us who get riled by misplaced apostrophes. The links solve the dilemma of gifts for writer friends – thanks! I treasure my yellowed, well-thumbed paperback of “The Elements of Style,” but recently treated myself to the hard-bound (in red cloth) illustrated version with Maira Kalman’s quirky drawings.

  6. Beryl Cuda

    Yep, the bunch of us who get grouchy about the much maligned apostrophe far outnumber the whiners who just want it to disappear.

  7. Stephanie Barbé Hammer

    your awfully strikt. i can’t believe you went their. (-:

  8. Joe Ponepinto

    Thanks for this. The incorrect use of the apostrophe has annoyed me for years. And since I was a newspaper editor and now an editor with a literary journal, that’s a lot of annoyance.

  9. Charlotte Morganti

    Hey Joe, good to hear from you! Beryl and I thank you for your support… btw the Alumni site is looking good!

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