Pet peeves, apostrophes, and plural family names
Do you have a pet peeve?
You know, those annoying little things that don’t seem to irritate anyone else, but drive you positively insane?
I actually found a site— GetAnnoyed.com—that lists 500 pet peeves, including:
- People who whistle when they are happy.
- Greeting cards that throw sparkles, sequins or confetti on the hapless recipient.
- People [who] don’t use coasters.
- Keeping your Christmas lights up until February.
- People who dress their pets.
- Leaving the toilet seat up.
- Cracking your knuckles.
- Road maps that aren’t folded correctly.
- People who talk on their cell phone at the movies.
- Things sticking out of drawers.
I admit that the items on this short list draw different reactions from me. I think it’s silly to dress a pet, for example, but I wouldn’t call it a pet peeve. I can take or leave an incorrectly folded map. And I don’t mind happy whistling at all!
No, for something to qualify as a pet peeve, it has to drive me absolutely batty. Nuts. Fingernails-on-a-chalkboard crazy.
I have several—as do you (admit it). But let me introduce you to just one of them: the misplaced apostrophe.
The apostrophe has two uses: contraction and possession. Unfortunately, people are so totally confused that they’re always sticking random apostrophes where punctuation marks should fear to tread:
- In simple plurals, such as “No pet’s allowed” (should be “No pets allowed”)
- In family names when referring to the family as one unit, such as “The Wilson’s live there” (should be “The Wilsons live there”)
Do You Know the
One of these days I’ll write up a lesson on plurals vs. possessives. Today, let’s focus on family names.
Watch out when using apostrophes with last names! Grammar guides can differ on how to use apostrophes, but if you follow these rules, you’ll get it right.
One Person’s Last Name
To show possession of one person, add -’s.
Sarah Smith: Mitts is Sarah Smith’s dog.
Jared Jones: Heinz is Jared Jones’s dog.
Reid Roberts: Arrow is Reid Roberts’s dog.
Last names that end in -s can be tricky!
Right: Arrow is Reid Roberts’s dog.
Wrong: Arrow is Reid Robert’s dog.
Don’t use an apostrophe when you mean to make a plural.
Right: The Smiths also want a gerbil.
Wrong: The Smith’s also want a gerbil.
The Whole Family’s Last Name
To show possession of a whole family: First, add -es or -s to write the family’s last name in plural form. Then, add an apostrophe at the end to show possession.
Right: Pip belongs to the Joneses. Pip is the Joneses’ cat.
Wrong: Pip belongs to the Joneses. Pip is the Jones’s cat.
Right: Jet belongs to the Smiths. Jet is the Smiths’ cat.
Wrong: Jet belongs to the Smiths. Jet is the Smiths’s cat.
Single person: Mike Miller
Whole family: The Millers
Family’s Possessive: The Millers’ hamster (or the Millers’s hamster)
Single person: Hubert Sing
Whole family: The Sings
Family’s Possessive: The Sings’ parakeet (or the Sings’s parakeet)
Single person: Gladys Sanchez
Whole family: The Sanchezes
Family’s Possessive: The Sanchezes’ llama
Single person: Mrs. Sanders
Whole family: The Sanderses
Family’s Possessive: The Sanderses’ goat
Put it into Practice: Want to give yourself (or your kids) some practice forming plural and possessive last names? Just pull out the phone directory, open to a random page, and give it a whirl! The more they practice forming plurals and possessives, the more natural it will become for them to do so correctly.
What’s your pet peeve (grammar or otherwise)? Share it in the comments!
Creative Commons photo: Matteo Parrini. Used by permission of photographer.
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