Saturday 16 December 2017

The Apostrophe

People don't use apostrophes properly because they do not think about what it is they are trying to say. Photo: Getty Images.
People don't use apostrophes properly because they do not think about what it is they are trying to say. Photo: Getty Images.

Misplacing or omitting apostrophes is a common mistake in writing. However, the misuse of apostrophes can seriously change the meaning of a sentence, often with hilarious, if unintended, consequences.

The main reason people don't use apostrophes properly is because they do not think about what it is they are trying to say. This is especially the case when using an apostrophe with the word 'it'.

Imagine making this mistake:

The dog drank it's milk.

This actually means: The dog drank it is milk.

I don't think the dog would be very impressed! Clearly, it should read the dog drank its milk – because the milk belongs to the dog.

Or try this:

Thank God its Friday!

This really makes no sense. It should of course read: Thank God it's Friday!

So, always ask yourself what it is you're trying to say – if you are saying it is, then use it's. To show possession use its.

Apostrophes are used in two main cases:

1. For possession

There are two types of possession, singular and plural possession.

* For singular possession, add an 's' and place the apostrophe before it. For example; Jack's dog, Jim's coat, Mary's money

* For plural possession, place the apostrophe after the 's'. For example, the girls' classroom, (more than one girl) the boys' teacher, (more than one boy)

* For plural words that don't end with 's', add the 's' and put the apostrophe before it. For example: the women's room, the children's toys

* If a name ends in 's', 'x' or 'z', add another 's'. For example; Yeats's poetry, St James's Hospital, Jimmy Jones's dog.2.

For contraction: to indicate where a letter is missing. For example, I don't know, I'm not, you're a great girl!

Why not have a go:

Place the apostrophes, where needed, in the correct place in the following sentences.

1. The womens group meet for tea and cakes on Fridays.

2. Marys dinners are always interesting.

3. Her friends lives are all busy.

4. She always falls asleep on the couch.

5. Miriams sisters are all beautiful.

6. James goes to the sports pitch on Wednesdays.

7. The childrens teachers name is Ms Walsh.

8. The 1920s were wonderful years.

9. Shakespeares characters are still relevant in todays world.

1O. Jims wifes name is Anne.

11. Put your books and copies on the table.

12. Its a lovely day

13. The cat licked its fur.

14. St Jamess Hospital is in Dublin.

15. Yeats was a great poet.

16. The boys hats.

Spelling - get it write, oops, right!

Test yourself on these commonly misspelled words – can you correct them?

1. Abscence 26. Literture

2. Acidentally 27. Neccesary

3. Acheive 28. Ocaission

4. Accomadate 29. Occured

5. Aquaintance 30. Opposate

6. Alot 31. Posess

7. Arguement 32 Practicaly

8. Begining 33. Privilage

9. Beleive 34. Propably

10. Bussiness 35. Realize

11. Cemetary 36. Recieve

12. Comittee 37. Recomend

13. Couragous 38. Rythm

14. Definitley 39. Seperate

15. Doesnt 40. Sincerly

16. Embaras 41. Supprise

17. Excellant 42. Truely

18 Fasinate 43. Untill

19. Febuary 44. Vacume

20. Goverment 45. Vegetetale

21. Grammer 46. Vilan

22. Garantee 47. Visable

23. Imediately 48. Wensday

24. Independant 49. Wierd

25. Lonly 5O. Withold HomonymsMany spelling errors occur due to homonyms – a homonym is one of a group of words that share the same spelling and/ or pronunciation but have different meanings. So, even though a word is spelled correctly, in the wrong context it can corrupt the meaning of a sentence.

For example:

Take the words – aloud and allowed.

They sound the very same, but have completely different meanings.

1. The teacher asked me to read allowed is incorrect, even though it sounds right. This should read; the teacher asked me to read aloud.

Here's another example:

2. His bear arms were blistered

This should read; his bare arms were blistered.

Have a go!

Circle the correct option in the following sentences:

1. That's a really good golf coarse/course.

2. His language is very coarse/course.

3. I was so board/bored listening to the teacher today.

4. It's time to board/bored the boat.

5. Please don't break/brake my new glasses.

6. My car needs new breaks/brakes.

7. That old book is not worth a cent/scent/sent

8. I sent/scent/cent the money to the bank.

9. I love the scent/sent/cent of roses.

10. The result was fair/fare.

11. The young boy herd/heard the mooing of the cows.

12. The cow herd/heard is in the meadow.

13. How can you be so idol/idle when you've so much study to do?

14. Brianna is a teen idol/idle; everyone loves her.

15. We have meet/meat with our dinner nearly every night.

16. I am going to meet/meat my friends later.

17. That pail/pale can hold over six gallons of milk.

18. I think he is sick; he looks very pale/pail.

19. I received two letters in today's male/mail.

20. There were two male/mail passengers on the bus today.

21. I finally passed/past my driving test.

22. His financial troubles are all in the passed/past.

23. The world is finally at piece/peace.

24. I'd like just a small piece/peace of that pie.

25. The plane/plain finally landed after a bumpy ride.

26. The wallpaper was very plain/plane in that room.

27. The principal/principle is very strict.

28. He always sticks to his principals/principles.

29. The student didn't know the write/right answer.

30. I have to right/write an essay for homework.

31. He never left the seen/scene of the crime

32. I've never seen/scene such a big cake before.

33. The child sat on the bottom stair/stare.

34. I couldn't help but stair/stare at the woman's dress.

35. Why did you steel/steal those books from the store?

36. The building is held up with steel/steal girders.

37. The big cat has a tiny tail/tale.

38. She told a wild tail/tale about the boy next door.

39. They threw/through the stones into the lake.

40. Alice looked threw/through the looking glass.Commonly

Confused WordsIncrease your word power by getting it right!

1. Accept - to receive

2. Except - to exclude, omit

3. Already - by now

4. All ready - all things/persons are ready

5. Affect - to influence

6. Effect - result, to bring about or accomplish

7. Allowed - permitted

8. Aloud - audible

9. Allusion - indirect reference

10. Illusion - False impression

11. Dependant - One who depends on another

12. Dependent - Depending on

13. Especially - notably, particularly

14. Specially - for a special occasion

15. Hoard - store

16. Horde - crowd

17. Human - man/woman

18. Humane - compassionate

19. You're - you are

20. Your - belonging to you

21. Who's - who is

22. Whose - belonging to whom?PunctuationGood punctuation is essential if you want to write well. Here are some of the basics – some you might have forgotten and some may be new!

Capital letters

1. Always use a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence.

2. At the beginning of a passage of direct speech

3. With proper nouns, e.g. Ireland, Anna, January, Monday, etc.

4. For adjectives derived from proper nouns e.g. Irish, Edwardian, Napoleonic, etc.

5. For the first and all main words in the title or a book, programme, song, person's title

6. For the first word in each line of poetry (unless you're a rebel!)

7. Always use a capital 'I' when referring to yourself.

The Full Stop

A full stop marks the end of a sentence (except if you're asking a question or using an exclamation mark, both of which have a dot on the end, so think of that as your full stop!)

To check if you have made a full sentence, read it aloud; if it makes complete sense, then you can use a full stop.


"I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of it taking it out" Oscar Wilde.

Ah the dreaded comma!

Here are some basic rules:

1. Commas are used to separate words, phrases or clauses in a list.

E.g. The room was filled with books, dishes, cutlery and general clutter.

2. Use a comma to separate a series of adjectives.

E.g. She was such a kind, sweet, gentle woman

3. Use a comma to separate clauses in a sentence joined by 'and' or 'but'.

E.g. She ran to the shop, fell on the wet pavement, and landed in the middle of the road.

4. Use a comma when placing a group of words after a noun to give further information.

E.g. James, Rachel's brother, is a brilliant footballer.

5. Use a comma to mark off an interjection – e.g. "Yes," "No,"

6. Use a comma when tagging on clauses, e.g. "You look awful, are you sick?" "It's a lovely day, isn't it?"

Exclamation marks

1. An exclamation mark is used to convey outrage or a sharp comment:

E.g. "Help! Help!" or "How dare you!"

2. It can also be used to convey humour or sarcasm:

E.g. "Yeah, right!"ClichésBeware low hanging fruit – it might give you the pip!

Clichés are phrases that are used so often they have lost their meaning. If you want to be an interesting and lively writer, then avoid clichés like the plague! See what we mean? When you think about it, the plague was a deadly disease that killed millions of people, now we just throw this phrase around without giving a second thought to what it really means. And, as for Michael Noonan and his low hanging fruit, what can we say!

Here are some well-known clichés we wouldn't touch with a barge pole. Ahem.

1. Absence makes the heart grow fonder

2. Actions speak louder than words

3. All's fair in love and war

4. What goes around comes around

5. As cool as a cucumber

6. Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies

7. His goose was cooked

8. My skin was crawling

9. He's driving me up the wall

10. She made my blood boil

11. Money is the root of all evil

12. Love is blind

13. That's the way the cookie crumbles

14. If you love someone set them free

15. Tower of strength

16. It's a dog-eat-dog world

17. There's no such thing as a free lunch

18. A friend in need is a friend indeed

19. Curiosity killed the cat

20. Free as a bird

Irish Independent Supplement

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