Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Abused Apostrophe

The Abused Apostrophe

By M. Roberts, Guest Blogger

Such a small thing can make a BIG difference in one’s writing. It can affect the entire meaning of a word or sentence. The apostrophe, ( ’ or ' ) is a punctuation mark, and a diacritical mark (accent mark). It may seem like a tiny matter to a student when writing a formal paper, but when it changes the gist of a thought, it is a BIG deal. Incorrect use of an apostrophe can lower one’s grade substantially.

Here are a few rules to remember and follow about the little apostrophe:

1. s Use this at the end of a noun to make it possessive.

For example: Mary’s purse, Bob’s dog, Lillian’s home, Charles’s friend (note that Charles ends with an s? Whatever the noun ends with, one STILL puts the apostrophe at the end of the noun).

2. ‘s In this case, the apostrophe is a contraction, meaning the two words: it is.

For example: It’s 8:00, it’s time to go, it’s all right, it’s my name, it’s your book, it’s fine, it’s the name of the class, it’s the best one yet, it’s going to be OK. (Do not forget, however, in formal papers contractions are not necessarily proper nor allowed.)

3. Its. The word. Often students wrongly place an apostrophe in this word when it is not needed. This is a gender neutral word, which is quite appropriate in formal writing. Use this word when one refers to groups of people:

For example: The researchers kept all subjects to its same rigorous standards. There is a place for everything, and everything has its place. Children and dogs scrambled to get out of its way.

Monday, July 13, 2009


What’s wrong with this sentence?

“At the end of the day, the numbers speak for themselves.” (I actually heard this on the radio recently).

This sentence is an attempt to illustrate what happens when you write using clichés.

A cliché is an overused expression or idea, one that, over time, has lost its meaning or strength. When you write using a cliché, your meaning is often unclear, your writing can seem trivial and the cliché, though overused, may not be fully understood by your reader. Clichés are neither formal nor specific enough for scholarly writing.

Other common clichés include:
Perfect storm
Day in and day out
Hour of need
The real deal
Short and sweet
Off the beaten track
A matter of life and death
A dog’s life
No such thing as a free lunch
With all due respect
Beyond the pale
The light at the end of the tunnel
Stand on your own two feet
Bone of contention

So, how to fix the sentence above, that is:
“At the end of the day, the numbers speak for themselves.”

I would try to substitute clear, formal and accurate statements that contain evidence for the two clichés. Here are a few examples:

The result of the program was a 22% decrease in feelings of depression and isolation in nursing home residents (site your source here!!!)
Evidence suggests that the policy change resulted in improved nutritional status for school lunch program participants versus non-participants (again cite your source!!!)

Final program evaluation showed no decline in teen sexual activity in program participants versus controls (again cite your source!!!)

Keep writing!