Grammar is a marvellous tool. It can be used to add expression, meaning and drama to a piece of writing. It is the structure around which all the beauty is composed – the frame in which the final piece of art is hung.
Lynne Truss has made her name from it, showing the power of punctuation in “Eats, shoots and leaves”. There is a big difference between the panda that eats shoots and leaves and the one who eats, shoots and leaves. And the missing comma is vital in the sentence:
I like cooking my family and my pets.
The so-called Grocer’s Apostrophe is a thing of legend…
No-one can claim that the placement of apostrophes is simple, but when it is done correctly the writing – and thus the reading – flows easily. Watching my daughter doing a piece of homework that involved placing apostrophes in the right place in a sentence brought back all those fears of working out who owns what – a lady, or the ladies? Its or It’s? Childrens or Children’s?
But, when considered as ownership, it’s obvious, isn’t it? There isn’t such a word as childrens… (I know: the computer keeps autocorrecting this post!): the plural of child is children, and therefore the apostrophe must go after the n.
Possession is the basis of your vs you’re as well, though in reverse with respect to the apostrophe. Your shows the possession (is that your coat?) whereas you’re is a contraction of you are. Similarly they’re contracts they are, but their shows possession (have you seen their outfits!) and there indicates a place. Sometimes we simply need to slow down in order to get it right: often I read things in my head as if the apostrophe wasn’t there just to see if it still makes sense.
Inaccurate grammar and punctuation really irritates me when reading a book – particularly if it is in all other respects a good book! I want my enjoyment to flow unceasingly, not to be brought to an abrupt halt by an erroneous comma or a peculiar apostrophe.
My general thoughts about grammar were extended this week when I told my daughter off for saying she had brung her PE kit home the day before.
“No,” I said, “you brought it home.”
She grumpily agreed to that, then her friend pointed out that their English teacher says ‘brung’. Seriously. My jaw hit the floor and I declared he should be sacked. (Probably a slightly over-the-top response to his failings, I know!)
And then, this made me smile … for I like the sentiment, even if the apostrophe use makes my toes curl.