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Good English. Using the apostrophe

I have been asked to write a few words on the correct use of the apostrophe. I am only too pleased to do so!

The apostrophe seems to cause endless problems for many people. So much so, that one type of incorrect usage has even acquired its own nickname: the greengrocer's apostrophe.

The apostrophe is used to denote possession, amongst other functions.  We could say, 'the dog of my sister is brown' or 'the dog belonging to my sister is brown'. It is very common to say 'my sister's dog is brown'. Here we use an apostrophe to show the possessive. In languages such as German, Latin, Russian it is known as the 'genitive case'.

If I had two sisters who both owned the same dog, how would this be expressed? Answer: 'My sisters' dog is brown'. By putting the apostrophe after the plural of 'sister', we can see that the dog belongs to both sisters. In speech this idea is not clear because the two sentences ('my sister's dog is brown' and 'my sisters' dog is brown') sound the same.

Correct usage is vital when documents are to be translated. It might not be very important to know how many sisters own the dog (apart from to the sisters themselves) but consider the implications for the following sentences:  'the sum of the company director's bonus is £10,000' and 'the sum of the company directors' bonus is £10,000'. A misplaced apostrophe could be considered to be crucial!

Correct English grammar is vital to your company's image. If you would like further information about apostrophes (including why greengrocers have one of their own) or you would prefer me to do your proofreading, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. Lessons can be provided in Bath or via Skype.

If there is an area of English grammar that you find confusing, let me know via the comments section and I'll consider writing a blog post about it.

Next time, find out why less is more...

Good English grammar: when to use 'they're'

English has a number of homophones. The word comes from two Greek words: 'homo' meaning 'the same' and 'phone' meaning 'sound'.

Examples of homophones are 'there', 'their' and 'they're'. What is the difference? They all have a different function in the sentence. When speaking, we understand from the context which one is meant but if they are incorrectly used in a written text they can impede comprehension.

'They're going there with their children' is an example of a sentence that uses all three versions of this particular homophone. How do we know which one to write? 'They're' is simply a contraction of 'they are'. Therefore by writing the words out in full, fewer mistakes will be made. It is considered better to put 'they are' in formal writing, so the problem is solved!

It is essential to the image of your business to ensure that your documents and presentations are written in correct English. If you would like to learn about when to use 'their' and 'there' and some tricks for remembering which is which, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. Lessons can be provided in Bath or via Skype. Alternatively, I will be happy to proofread your documents for you.

The next post has been requested by a reader of my blog and is on the subject of apostrophes.


Good English grammar: when to use 'I' and 'me'

English grammar appears not to be widely taught in British schools these days. Just because one grows up speaking a language it does not necessarily follow that one grows up speaking it correctly.  It seems to me that the confusion with when to use 'I' and 'me' may stem from a very early age and the confusion is not ironed out at school.

There is a convention in polite society that when talking about oneself and a friend, the friend should be mentioned first. Children often say sentences such as, "Mum, can me and Tommy go swimming?"  Mother then corrects the child to say "Can Tommy and I go swimming?" So far, so good (well, almost. There is another issue here... but let's tackle one thing at a time!). This is correct because if Tommy were not there the child would say "Can I go swimming?" The problem arises when the child, who has had the "Tommy and I" construction drilled into him, needs to use the word 'me'.

In Romance languages, grammatically speaking, 'me' is often referred to as the object of a sentence; in Latin, Greek, German and Russian it is known as the accusative. It's the same thing with a different name.

Here is an example I heard on the radio the other day. A solicitor, so one assumes reasonably well educated, said, "And the insurance broker asked my wife and I about our finances...."


The correct way of expressing this idea would be "And the insurance broker asked my wife and me about our finances..."

You would not say "The insurance broker asked I about my finances". Therefore, irrespective of how many other people are involved, it should be correctly expressed as  "the insurance broker asked me ...." When politely mentioning everyone else first it then becomes "the insurance broker asked John, Susan, Rebecca, Simon, my wife and me about our finances".

In a different situation the solicitor would be perfectly correct in saying "My wife and I are going on holiday to Cornwall this year." Why? Because "my wife is going on holiday to Cornwall" is correct and "I am going on holiday to Cornwall" is also correct. The two together, "my wife and I" is therefore correct. Nobody above the age of three says "Me is going on holiday" !

If in doubt, first construct the sentence in your head without friends and wives, etc. and decide if it should be 'I' or 'me' , then add the others. That way, you should get it right.

I hope this short explanation helps but if you are still unsure about aspects of English grammar, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. If you would like your documents proofread, I will be happy to provide this service. Alternatively, I can give lessons to meet your personal needs either in Bath or via Skype.

The next post looks at 'there'... or is it 'their' or 'they're'?