Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Spell check

When talking with some of my fellow "wordies," we often express dismay that spell check has removed the incentive to learn how to spell.
I'm certainly grateful for spell check, because it saves a trip to the bookcase to pull out the dictionary. But all those lists of vocabulary words in grade school, participating in spelling bees (I won in third grade! I spelled rheumatism.), reading and learning about various words...was it all for naught?
Well...I don't think so. While spell check is a powerful tool, it doesn't take homonyms into account, and it is no substitute for proofreading. (One of my common typos is typing "and" instead of "an." The former happens to be a fairly common word. <grin>) Spell check will let such things as the improper use of as "to" and "too" slide, not to mention "their" and "there." There are many more. Spell check does not erase all errors, and is not a panacea for not knowing the fundamentals of grammar or spelling.
Of course, if you're going to rely on spell check, I suggest you actually use it. I recently came across the word "surroget" in my readings. You can't blame spell check for that one!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Apostrophe

From my 11-24-07 entry:

Question: When do you use an apostrophe?

apostrophe: The apostrophe has three uses:

1) to form possessives of nouns

2) to show the omission of letters

3) to indicate certain plurals of lowercase letters.

Apostrophes are NOT used for possessive pronouns or for noun plurals, including acronyms.

How to make a noun possessive: To see if you need to make a possessive, turn the phrase around and make it an "of the..." phrase. For example:

the boy's hat = the hat of the boy; three days' journey = journey of three days

Once you've determined whether you need to make a possessive, follow these rules to create one.

 --add 's to the singular form of the word (even if it ends in -s): the owner's car, James's hat

 --add 's to the plural forms that do not end in -s: the children's game, the geese's honking

 --add ' to the end of plural nouns that end in -s: houses' roofs, three friends' letters

 --add 's to the end of compound words: my brother-in-law's money

 --add 's to the last noun to show joint possession of an object: Todd and Anne's apartment

Don't use apostrophes for possessive pronouns or for noun plurals. Apostrophes should not be used with possessive pronouns because possessive pronouns already show possession -- they don't need an apostrophe. His, her, its, my, yours, ours are all possessive pronouns.


This is one of my buddy Greg's (note the apostrophe there, denoting possession) pet peeves, and it has also become one of mine. Specifically, "it's" means "it is." It is (or I could write "it's") not interchangeable with the possessive "its," as in "a leopard cannot change its spots." If you substitute "it's" in that sentence, the expanded contraction would read, "a leopard cannot change it is spots." It makes no sense.