Its Academic, or Is It? Soon, No One Will Care about Correct Grammar, and the Apostrophe Will Disappear into Infinity

By Larson, Charles S. | Newsweek, November 6, 1995 | Go to article overview

Its Academic, or Is It? Soon, No One Will Care about Correct Grammar, and the Apostrophe Will Disappear into Infinity


Larson, Charles S., Newsweek


IF YOU'RE 35 YEARS OR OLDER, YOU PROBABLY IDENTIFY A common grammatical error in the heading on this page. Younger than that and, well, you likely have another opinion: "Its all relative" -- except, of course, for the apostrophe. Unfortunately, age appears to be the demarcation here. For those in the older group,youth has already won the battle. I've been keeping a list of places where its is misused: newspapers, magazines, op-eds in major publications and, more recently, wall texts in museums. A few weeks ago I encountered the error in a book title: "St. Simons: A Summary of It's History," by R. Edwin and Mary A. Green. My fist is getting longer and longer.

Does it even matter that the apostrophe is going the way of the stop sign and the directional signal in our society? Does punctuation count any longer? Are my complaints the ramblings of an old goat who's taught English for too many years?

What's the big deal, anyway? Who cares whether it's its or it's? Editors don't seem to know when the apostrophe's necessary. (One of them confessed to me that people have always been confused about the apostrophe -- better just get rid of it.) My university undergraduates are clearly befudddled by the correct usage. Too many graduate applications--especially those of students aspiring to be creative writers -- provide no clue that the writer understands when an apostrophe is required. Even some of my colleagues are confused by this ugglesome contraction.

How can a three-letter word be so disarming, so capable of separating the men from the boys? Or the women from the girl's? When in doubt use it both ways, as in a recent advertisement hyping improved SAT, GRE and LSAT scores: "Kaplan locations all over the U. S. are offering full-length exams just like the actual tests. It's a great way to test your skills and get a practice score without the risk of your score being reported to schools. And now, for a limited time only, its absolutely free!"

And now, students, which one of the above spellings of the I word is correct: (a) the first, (b) the second, (c) both or (d) neither? Any wonder why Educational Testing Services had to add 100 points to the revised SAT exams?

It's been my recent experience that the apostrophe hasn't actually exited common usage; it's simply migrated somewhere later in the sentence. Hence, "Shes lost her marble's" has become the preferred use of this irritating snippet of punctuation in current American writing. "Hes not lost his hat; hes lost his brains'." "Theres gold in them there hill's." Or "It was the best of times' and the worst of time's." The latter, of course, is from Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities'." Or is it Charle's Dickens?

Where will this end? Virtual apostrophe's? At times I wonder if all those missing apostrophes are floating somewhere in outer space. Don't they have to be somewhere, if--as some philosophers tell us--nothing is ever lost? Lately, I've seen the dirty three-letter word even punctuated as its'. What's next?

I'ts?' Its?

How complicated can this be? How difficult is it to teach a sixth grader how to punctuate correctly? …

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Its Academic, or Is It? Soon, No One Will Care about Correct Grammar, and the Apostrophe Will Disappear into Infinity
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