Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Word Wise Wednesday

A few years ago I saw the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves in an airport. I remember thinking, I want to read that sometime. It's a book about punctuation. (Don't look so excited.) So, since I'm on a mission to become a less-ignorant grammarian (I consider punctuation a subset of grammar), I recently picked it up from the library.

I really can't explain exactly why I'm suddenly interested in mastering the rules of grammar. I don't know of many (okay, any) other people who read books about punctuation for leisure. Perhaps I just don't run in the right circles? All I can say is that I would like to improve my writing skills. As I edit my posts I've been paying a little more attention to whether or not my sentences are grammatically correct and I became slightly disconcerted to realize that many times, I don't actually know. And now, here you are, helping me to work through my grammatical demons. Yay! (Am I normal? Don't answer that.)

I digress. Back to the book. It's fabulous. But it has shown me that I knew even less than I thought I did about correct punctuation. I was going to do this first WWW post about the semi colon. But my reading has shown me that I have about as much understanding of the semi colon as I have of rocket science. And what do I know about rocket science? Well, I have seen a rocket once or twice. Who knew that the semi colon conveys buckets of nuanced meaning?

The semi colon will have to wait. Possibly until I obtain another degree. So, here's an easy tidbit, a piece of information that has somehow eluded me in my 12 years of school and 6 years of higher education:

You probably all know that to make a singular word possessive, you and an -'s: Peter's hat. Leslie's questionable sanity.

To denote a plural possessive, you add an s': The cats' box (more than one cat); the girls' shoes (more than one girl).

But there are exceptions! I was surprised to learn that when you want to show the possessive of a plural word that does not end in -s, you use the -'s again! Did you know this?!? I did not.

For example: children. Children, the plural of child, does not end in -s. The correct plural possessive of children is children's. Not childrens', as you would think according to the rules above.

Correct plural possessive: The children's toys.

Another good example: women. Women's is the correct plural possessive, not womens', again contrary to the rules.

Correct plural possessive: The Women's movement.

You learn something new everyday! Some days, more than you anticipated!


Daniele Ness said...

The million dollar question would be do you say, "The Ness' car is fancy", or "The Ness's car is fancy"? I've seen both and I think Ness' is cleaner looking and follows the rule of words ending in s. I have also seen Nesses used which just looks odd to me.
What are your thoughts on that?

Dee said...

plural possessives are actually one of my pet peeves! seriously

Laura Stiller said...

As a former proof reader I would have to tell Daniele that according to AP style the correct form would be Ness'. And, as someone who only learned all this nitty gritty grammar for a job - YOU ARE HILARIOUS! I don't even know if there is a circle for you to run in honey. :-)

Jill said...

I, with you, actually LOVED grammar--especially diagramming when I learned it in middle school. I find it so fun! And you will adore homeschooling, if that's what you choose one day, because you get to learn all this stuff and more all over again! Education really is wasted on the young, because you can't appreciate it fully until you're older. Sigh.