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  • Writer's pictureAmanda George

Why even editors need help sometimes, a spa day and some rogue apostrophes

I thought I would write about some of the most common issues that arise in people’s writing. I knew I’d done something similar a while ago (“Five small ways to improve your writing”), so I wanted to check what I’d covered before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). And what did I discover? That I’d shared not five but six ways to improve your writing (the shame). I must have added a sixth point – just before sharing – and forgotten to amend the title.

What can I say? Not a great deal, other than to point out that this highlights the need to get someone else to check what you write before you publish. No matter how much of a grammar and consistency nerd you are, you get blind spots when it comes to your own writing – big ones! Let’s move on…

So, the thing that is on my mind today is unwanted apostrophes, because I see them EVERYWHERE. In a nutshell, apostrophes are used to show possession (“the dog’s hat” = “the hat of the dog”) or for contractions (“it’s a lovely hat” = “it is a lovely hat”).

Let’s look at a nice example. I went on a gorgeous spa day at the weekend (and I'm wishing I were still there rather than writing about dogs and their hats). While we were waiting to buy oat lattes, I noticed a rogue apostrophe on a sign. It read something like this: “One of your Spa Angel’s will be with you soon.” This should obviously read: “One of your Spa Angels will be with you soon.” Because there’s no possession here. And no contraction. The Angels are simply plural: there are several of them.

To keep that apostrophe, the sign would have to read something like this: “One of the Spa Angel’s assistants will be with you soon.” But you see the problem, because this translates into: “One of the assistants of the Spa Angel” (i.e. there’s just one Spa Angel and several assistants). If we want several Spa Angels, and several assistants (why wouldn’t we), the sign should actually read: "One of the Spa Angels’ assistants will be with you soon.” Literally, this is: “One of the assistants of the Spa Angels will be with you soon.” And, finally, what if there are several Angels and just one assistant? Then it’s: “The Spa Angels’ assistant will be with you soon.” Which is: "The assistant of the Spa Angels will be with you soon."

Lie down, anyone? I know a lovely spa if you’re interested…

Before you run for the hills, or a nice head massage, a final word about it's and its. Let’s look at some more examples: “It’s a wonderful spa to spend the day in.” It’s is a contraction of it is – there’s no possession here. The possessive form (its) does not have an apostrophe in this case (unlike the Spa Angel’s assistant – or assistants). Example: “The dog has got its hat on.” The hat belongs to the dog, and the dog is wearing it. It’s a possessive dog, and it likes its hat very much, especially when it’s raining and it doesn’t want to get its fur wet.

Enough, already? I couldn't agree more. My head hurts. I’m off to lie down in a dark room and dream about hot tubs, dogs in hats and foot massages…

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