Apostrophe Wars

The other day we were putting the finishing touches on a brief when an apostrophe argument arose.  We needed to indicate the possessive for an individual whose last name ended in s.  So, the question was, should it be “Mr. Jones‘ car” or “Mr. Jones’s car?”

b3ac60b60ddd3ad1a1d723192a4a4c65I always use the former construction, but the Jersey Girl was adamant that the second construction is the only permissible approach.  As is so often the case with grammar matters, the dispute became heated, passionate positions were staked out on both sides, voices were raised, and the Soccer Star, another member of the team on the case, heard the argument and came from a nearby office to enter the fray.  From there, the dispute escalated quickly, and if it had continued one of the participants probably would have been seen galloping away from the area with a trident lodged in his or her back.  But, because we needed to get a draft out the door, I yielded to the Jersey Girl’s resolute insistence that we must go with “Mr. Jones’s car,” and permanent injury was avoided.

Many people don’t really care about grammar, but for those who do correct usage is a very important issue.  And one of the reasons that the question of precisely how to show that the car belongs to Mr. Jones is a point of great dispute is that there is no universally recognized right answer.  Some authorities take the position that, whenever a possessive is used with a word ending in “s,” an “apostrophe s” must be added, others say that only an apostrophe should be used, and still others acknowledge that there is no correct answer and the key thing is to be consistent.

I prefer the use of the apostrophe only in this situation, because I think “Mr. Jones’s car” looks clunky.  In addition, when I read and write I admittedly tend to sound things out in my head, and the Jersey Girl’s approach with its multiple back-to-back sibilants leaves me hissing like a snake.

Still, it was interesting to see how much people can care about grammar.  And there’s nothing like a good grammar fight to get the tridents flying!

Grammar 101

Trinity Episcopal Church, at the corner of Broad and Third Streets in downtown Columbus, has a cool arched red entrance and a welcoming message for all just above its two front doors. But . . . “An House of Prayer”?

It violates one of the rules of grammar that were drilled into students back in grade school — namely, that you use “an” when the following word starts with a vowel sound and “a” when the following word starts with a consonant sound. It’s one of the many weird English grammar rules that trip people up precisely because of letters like h, which can be pronounced in some cases and silent in others — so you write “an honor” but “a house.”

So how did the friendly message above the front door at Trinity get bungled? I don’t know, but I may have to go inside to see whether there are violations of other key rules, like “I before E, except after C, or where sounded in A as in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh.'”

For Fear Of A Dangling Preposition

You learned the rule when you were growing up.  You turned in a theme or two in English class, and your paper came back swimming in a sea of red ink.  Almost inevitably, one of the comments from your teacher — maybe even with an exclamation point or two — was that you were not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition.

winston-churchill-quote-ending-a-sentence-with-aIf you did, you had crossed the dreaded “dangling preposition” line.  It was a rule right up there with the “dangling participle” and the “dangling modifier” in the anti-dangling English grammar book.  So instead of writing “What do you want to talk about?,” you were supposed to write something forced and weirdly contrived, namely:  “About what do you want to talk?”  It’s one key way in which what we were taught about the written word varies distinctly from actual spoken language.  If your wife told you that she wanted to talk about something and you responded “About what do you want to talk?,” she’d think you’ve gone off your rocker.

Why were we ever taught about dangling prepositions?  I ran across an article yesterday that attributed the rule to John Dryden, a well-known English writer of the late 1600s, who supposedly made two offhand comments about how ending a sentence with a preposition did not seem “elegant.”  It doesn’t appear that Dryden was a crusader about the issue, but according to the article, Dryden’s stature was such that his comments became embedded in the strict grammarian mind at a time when the English language was evolving and becoming more standardized, and ultimately gave rise to the hard and fast red-ink rule that was taught when we were going to school.  Others argue, however, that the anti-dangling preposition view arose because English grammarians borrowed the rule from Latin — which was the language of the learned for centuries — and in Latin prepositions can’t be separated from their objects.

So who really was responsible for that red ink on your high school theme?  Was it one now-obscure British writer who was obsessed with elegance, or was it the dangling Romans?  We’ll probably never know for sure.  The important thing is that the anti-dangling bias has ended, and grammarians now embrace sentences like “Who did you go with?” as perfectly correct — and certainly more natural sounding than the artificial constructions used to avoid some of that dreaded dangling.

Your high school English teacher, and perhaps John Dryden, too, must be wondering where this unseemly and inelegant development came from.

Boy Band Grammar

I’m not familiar with One Direction or, for that matter, any “boy bands.”  For all I know, their music is puerile.  Nevertheless, I must confess that I like the style of Harry Styles, one of the One Direction band members.

At a recent One Directions concert in Philadelphia, Styles noticed a fan’s handmade sign that read: “Hi Harry! Your so nice” followed by a hand-drawn heart.  Styles noticed the sign and asked one of the security personnel to retrieve it along with a pen.  He then corrected the sign to read “Hi Harry!  You’re so nice” and then added “Thank you!  Harry” and had it returned to the fan.

I recall learning from colleagues with daughters that apparently every boy band has at least one “nice boy” to go with at least one “bad boy.”  I’d agree with the fan that Harry Styles seems like a good guy — and I like the fact that he’s standing up for good grammar in the teenybopper world.  The difference between “your” and “you’re” has long been a grammar pet peeve of mine, too.  I wouldn’t mind it if one of the “bad boys” in the band did some grammar correction, too.

“Each And Every”

Here’s a pet peeve for me.

Somewhere along the line, someone told know-nothing athletes, and coaches, sports announcers, and other assorted sports figures that “each and every” sounded knowledgeable and conclusive and definitive. So they say it — again, and again, and again. I’ve heard it from players, and coaches, and others who don’t have anything meaningful to say and therefore say “each and every” to fill air time.

Guess what? “Each” means the same thing as “each and every.” It’s grossly redundant. It makes you sound ignorant. Enough already!