Quick Poll: Most Annoying Punctuation Mark

Writing a series on how to deal with rogue words was a lot of fun, and now I’m thinking of taking on punctuation. I’ve already talked about everyone’s favourite, the apostrophe, in a few popular posts: Night of the Apostrophe Ninja, Separating Siblings With Apostrophe S, and You’re Not a Yutz. Now I’d like to see if I can make other punctuation marks fun to learn about!


To help me figure out what to focus on, I’d love it if you could let me know which punctuation mark drives you crazy:


Please feel free to share any of your punctuation horror stories below, and I’ll do my best to write some tips that will help!


P.S. For those of you who are interested in learning about how art books are edited, I have an interview with award-winning editor Grace Yaginuma this week on the Editors’ Weekly.

Rogue Words From A to Z: Separating Siblings With Apostrophe S

A to Z Letter SOne of my readers has asked me how to successfully sort out plurals and possessives for words ending with the letter s. Stupendous idea! Let’s see if we can solve through storytelling all the different situations where s can cross us.

Once upon a time in another star system, there lived two clone siblings named Silas and Simon Sassafras.

Pluralizing Family Names

Neighbours had no idea what to do with “those Sassafrases” because they couldn’t tell the two of them apart.

When you are referring to more than one family member with a last name that ends in s, you add -es.

Showing Possession for a Singular Word

Silas’s smile was exactly the same as Simon’s.

Simon’s laugh was exactly the same as Silas’s.

If a word is singular, you add apostrophe s to the end of the word to indicate possession, even when the word ends with an s (Silas’s smile, Silas’s laugh).

Note: In the past, exceptions have been made for names that were considered special (like Jesus). In these rare cases, the apostrophe was used without an s (Jesus’). However, today’s trend (which is simple) is to always use apostrophe s for singular words.

Showing Possession for a Plural Word

The clone siblings’ eerie sameness was getting on everyone’s nerves. (Even if they were both very friendly.)

If a word is plural and ends in s, you add an apostrophe at the end without an s (siblings’).

Showing Possession For a Pair of People

Silas and Simon’s stubborn tendency to stump their neighbours would soon be over.

When you are referring to something that belongs to both people in a pair (tendency), you add an apostrophe s at the end of the second name.

In desperation, the community forced Silas and Simon to go to a barber shop and get different haircuts.

Silas’s hair was now short.

Simon’s hair was now not so short.

Silas’s and Simon’s hairstyles were so different that they could be seen as completely separate beings. The neighbours sighed in satisfaction as Silas and Simon sobbed.

When both people in a pair own different kinds of the same thing (like different hairstyles), then you need to put an apostrophe s at the end of both names.

The next morning, everyone in the neighbourhood woke up to find a clone sleeping next to them. Mass panic ensued. When they tried to get haircuts, their hair grew back. When they put on different clothes, the clothes instantly changed to become the same. They all ran to the Sassafrases’ house, but no one was home.

They later found out that Silas and Simon had left on a spaceship to become famous intergalactic movie stars who paid off all their new neighbours’ mortgages.

Bonus Word: Separate

Separate (like definitely) is one of those super tricky words to spell. Here’s a quick tip to help you remember that separate has a “par” in the middle (instead of a “per“): When you separate things, they are now apart.


This post is dedicated to Ameena and Nicole Roder. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will taunt the troublesome letter T…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

“Night of the Apostrophe Ninja” Published in The Ghouls’ Review

Hi everyone,

My story “Night of the Apostrophe Ninja” has just been published in the Grammar Corner column of the inaugural edition of The Ghouls’ Review. Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Purkis (from the excellent blog Apoplectic Apostrophes) has brought together a fantastic collection of fiction and creative non-fiction. I encourage you to check it out!

komori ninja

Image Credit: Komori by Gary Dupuis. Stock art purchased from http://www.rpgnow.com


Night of the Apostrophe Ninja

Like many of his neighbours in the sleepy small town of Anywhere, Bob was puzzled by the mysterious word its. When should he use an apostrophe? Bob was known as the best writer in town, and he dreaded everyone finding out his shameful secret.

Bob did know that apostrophes could do two things:

1. Show the reader that two words have been put together and letters have been removed.

2. Show the reader that an object is being possessed by someone or something.

So it made sense to Bob that people might write things like Bob’s a really smart guy. (If they only knew!)

Bob understood that Bob is could be contracted into Bob’s, with the apostrophe showing that there were missing letters.

Bob was also familiar with I always go to Bob’s house when I need some advice about apostrophes. (Oh, the mounting pressure!)

Since Bob owned his house, it made sense to write Bob’s house.

Bob was comfortable using apostrophes with almost any noun for the two situations. But then there were those exceptions he just didn’t understand: it, you, and they. He wasn’t comfortable deceiving his friends into believing he was a punctuation expert. He needed to figure this out. Maybe tonight he would finally master it.

Nancy’s coming over here tomorrow for apostrophe advice, Bob thought, and I’m worried about whether I have this right. Ha! The dog’s barking. It’s happening again. I must find out who is helping me!

Every night, Bob was being visited by a mysterious apostrophe thief. This stealthy punctuation master would slice out all the apostrophes that didn’t belong and take them away.  Bob had never caught a glimpse of his visitor. He was left with only the results—accurate sentences.

Over time, Bob had noticed a pattern. Those vague and disturbing pronouns it, you, and they often had apostrophes going missing into the night. For these words, an apostrophe was left behind only for a situation where Bob was putting words together:

It’s strange that this is happening. [replacing It is]

You’re not going to believe this. [replacing You are]

They’re wrong about me being a punctuation genius. [replacing They are]

When Bob was writing about the possession of something, the apostrophes disappeared. Instead of it’s, you’re, and they’re, he was left with its, your, and their.

If only the town knew its resident writer was not the true source of punctuation knowledge. [the resident writer belonged to the town]

My dog always barks at your arrival, oh mysterious visitor. [the visitor controls the arrival]

But the townfolk go on their merry way, unaware of who is in their midst. [the townfolk are responsible for their oblivious activity]

At the sound of the dog barking, Bob sprinted into his home office. He found a shrouded figure crouched on his messy desk, claws resting lightly on the surface. Bob halted in the doorway.

He whispered, “It’s you! You’re the one who’s been stealing my apostrophes and preserving my reputation! They’re treating me like I’m a genius, but you’re the one who truly knows!”

The ninja slowly nodded its head.

“Oh, great punctuation master, please tell me if I have learned the pattern correctly for it, you, and they. When you’re contracting words, you use an apostrophe. But when you want to show possession, you do not use an apostrophe. Your teachings have taught me this. I will now be able to truly help the townspeople with their punctuation. Am I correct?”

The ninja nodded its head again.

“May the town know its true benefactor?”

In the blink of an eye, the apostrophe thief sprang out the window and disappeared into the night.

komori ninja

Image Credit: Komori by Gary Dupuis. Stock art purchased from http://www.rpgnow.com

Holding his breath, Bob approached his desk. None of the apostrophes had been removed from his papers. He had finally achieved mastery!

The town slept on, unaware of one man’s secret triumph.