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Annoy-Free Writing: Word Mix-Ups and Apostrophes

By Meryl K. Evans
Posted Tuesday, February 8, 2005

I am going two give ewe some suggestions to improve you're writing and to insure you have happy readers. I no I am committing many mistakes. This proves that spellchecker should not be you're best friend. I did not misspell any words in this paragraph, but it is terribly annoying, know?

This problem happens often with homonyms, words that sound alike but have different meaning and spelling. Examples:

* to, two, too
* your, you're
* their, there
* hear, here

"Insure" is another problem. I rarely see this word used correctly including the first paragraph. In most cases, the correct word is "ensure" and occasionally it is "assure." When discussing insurance policies or something similar, then "insure" is correct.

The spellchecker can't tell you if you used the wrong or right word. Be cautious and look it up in a dictionary if you're not sure which word to use. I admit that when I type fast that I occasionally use the wrong word because I "hear" the word in my head and my fingers type the wrong one.

While writing this article, I received my daily grammar email and it provided addition incentive for watching your words. Here's an example:

Meant: The former basketball player remains physically fit.

Typed: The former basketball player remains physically fat.

Embarrassing, eh? The last thing we need is to unintentionally offend someone.

Editors can tell you I've overlooked mistakes that a spellchecker missed. When I spout articles, I lose perspective from looking at them too long and do a poor inspection. Shame on me, I know. If you have the luxury, then try partner editing. Exchange your article with a co-worker and edit one another's work.

Did you notice another problem in the first paragraph? Apostrophe abuse! There should not be apostrophes in that paragraph. While on a cruise, I encountered frequent apostrophe abuse in the ship's newsletter. "It's" should've been "its," "1950's" should've been "1950s," and "50's" should've been "'50s."

Contractions should be the easiest apostrophe mistake to avoid, but it's prevalent in many resources even reputable ones. When proofreading, break up the contraction and sound out the whole thing. For example, read the first sentence of this article by saying, "I am going to give you some suggestions to help improve you are writing." You should know immediately that apostrophe does not belong there.

Another apostrophe catastrophe is in "calendar years." It takes little thinking, but it makes sense once you think about it. If you shorten a year to two digits, then it should have an apostrophe in front of the first digit to indicate it has been shortened. Remember that contractions are shortcuts, therefore to use it in a year is to shorten it.

On the other hand, when you do include all the digits of a year, you are not shortening it. There is no apostrophe even if it is plural. A year is not a person, place or thing and cannot "possess" anything. When you make it plural, just add an "s" on the end and nothing else.

An abused apostrophe is its use in "FAQ." Unless someone forgot to tell me, FAQ is not a person either and cannot "own" a thing. Someone made a good point asking me about the "s" in "FAQs" because it could be covered in "questions." That is true, but it can also mean, "question." "FAQs" and "FAQ" are acceptable. Many might argue because FAQ is an abbreviation that an 's is OK. If the abbreviation is recognizeable without the ', then it should be fine to drop it. When talking of letter grades such as A's, B's, C's, D's, and F's; it helps to have the apostrophe.

Also, remember possessives like "hers, "his," "ours," and "theirs" already indicate ownership of something. Don't make it a double ownership by adding an apostrophe. There are articles using "her's," "their's," and so on. It's ugly.

If you watch for these common mistakes, then you should have happy readers especially in those that are nitpicky about these errors.

About the Author
Meryl K. Evans, Content Maven, is Editor-in-Chief of eNewsletter Journal and The Remediator Security Digest. She's a slave to a MarketingProfs weekly column and a Web design reference guide at InformIT. She is the author of the popular e-report, How to Start a Business Blog and Build Traffic. Visit her site at ( for free newsletters, articles, and tips.


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