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

Rogue Words from A to Z: The Riddle of the Resuscitated Reputation

A to Z Letter RMany difficult English words have a Latin origin, such as words that have the letter combination sc. Sc is pronounced s, and is found in words like science or discipline or susceptible. One of the worst spelling offenders in this group is the word resuscitate.

Resuscitate comes from the Latin resuscitatus, from the verb resuscitare (to reawaken), from re- + suscitare (to rouse). It means to revive from apparent death.

My way of remembering how to spell this persistently annoying word is to break it down into parts: re + sus + cit + ate.

To help you remember this tip and sustain your strength of will in the face of this exciting word (and avoid becoming irate), I have written a very short story.

The Riddle of the Re+sus+cit+ated Reputation

Akko citadelShe ventured in to the citadel at the heart of the city to examine the supposedly dead criminal, who had been cited for various offenses.

As she examined the suspect, she could see that it had sustained some damage, but not enough to kill it. She had a suspicion that it could be rejuvenated, restored, or even revivified.

But did she want it to be?

Her heart palpitated as she pulled out her sharpened wooden weapon and prepared to penetrate the hated offender’s heart.

She scratched out the horrifyingly bad passage in her manuscript with her pencil.

After all, she had her author’s reputation to resuscitate, and this inane drivel wasn’t going to get her there.



Image of Akko Citadel from Ian and Wendy Sewell

This post is dedicated to norwegiantransplant. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will snare the sneaky letter S…


© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: Quest for the Quintessential Quaff

A to Z Letter QTrue story: Back when I was in high school, a friend of mine wrote a short fantasy story as an assignment for her creative writing class. One day she comes up to me in the hall, the very picture of outrage, and stabs her just-marked story with her index finger. “Look at this!” she says. Next to the word quaff, the teacher had written an X with the note, “Not a real word.”


Those of us who have read fantasy stories or acted out roleplaying games with tavern drinking scenes (who, me?) may have encountered the word quaff. To quaff means to drink deeply. Or to drink in long drafts. Or to drink “copiously and repeatedly.” My dictionary tells me this word has been around since the sixteenth century. So yes, I’m fairly certain it is a real word.

When I think of quaff, I picture Thor enjoying his mead in Valhalla by draining it to the bottom and then thumping his tankard on the table.

Or maybe movie Thor enjoying his first taste of coffee when he is banished to Earth.

Quaff, to me, is a word reserved for fabulously tasty drinks that must be inhaled. Only quintessential drinks should be quaffed.


What exactly does quintessential mean? Even authorities can’t agree. Merriam Webster defines it as “constituting, serving as, or worthy of being a pattern to be imitated.” Oxford tells us it is “representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class.” How can the same word mean both “worthy of imitation” and “typical”?

I believe the key meaning lies in the noun quintessence. In ancient philosophy, quintessence was a fifth element (beyond the four elements) that formed the celestial bodies and permeated all things.

To be quintessential, then, is no small thing. I think the mead of the gods in Valhalla is a good example.

But if you don’t like mead, you can always go for another quintessential drink, the famous Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Just be careful! Otherwise you might have to cut your quest short before you even leave the tavern. 🙂

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, the effect of which is like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


Mango juiceWhat quintessential drink do you like to quaff? I am partial to a glass of fresh mango juice (credit).

Unless otherwise noted, definitions are from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

This post is dedicated to Jaso and Shelley Sackier. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will righteously rumble with the renegade letter R…


© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: The Past Is So Passé

A to Z Letter PSometimes I find the old stories are the best ones. Take Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare, for example. We can take so many good lessons away from it. The most important lesson: Don’t fall asleep on the job. But we can also use this story to understand the difference between passed and past.


Passed is the past participle form of the verb pass. When I look up the verb pass in my dictionary, it gives me twenty-one distinct meanings for it. Yikes! Luckily we can ignore all that. Here’s the important thing to remember: Passed is always a verb.

At the start of the historic race, the hare immediately passed the tortoise and bounded away down the lane. He was going to win without a contest, but he ran as fast as he could anyway, because he was a showoff.

After an hour had passed, he started getting hungry from all that sprinting. He decided that he had time to pull over and stop for a snack.

In both of these sentences, passed is acting as a verb. In the first sentence, the verb is acting on an object (to pass the tortoise). In the second sentence, there is no object. But passed is still being used as a verb that describes the action of time passing.

The moral so far: Passed is always a verb.


So what about the word past? Past can function as many different things — adjective, noun, preposition, and likely the kitchen sink, too — but it’s never a verb.

After gorging on berries, the hare felt sleepy and decided to take a nap. As he snored away, the tortoise slowly moved past him and trundled towards the finish line.

At first glance, it might look like past is acting as a verb here. But it’s not. In this case, past is a preposition connecting the verb moved to the pronoun him. It helps tell us where the tortoise is moving to in relation to the hare.

(Prepositions are often used to describe spatial relationships between things. Other examples of prepositions are over, around, and through.)

The tortoise couldn’t believe his luck. In past years, he had always failed to win the race. But this time he was going to get to the finish line first.

This time past is an adjective, describing the noun years. These are not future years; they are past years.

And finally, we have past as a noun.

The Tortoise and the HareThe hare finally woke up, realizing by the position of the sun that he had slept for a long time. He scrambled up and ran as fast as he could towards the finish line. But the tortoise was already there, being patted on the shell by all the other animals.

In a poor attempt to recover his dignity, the hare said casually to the tortoise, “Sure, you won this time because I took it easy on you. But that’s in the past now. Next time I won’t be so generous.”

Unfortunately the referee overheard him and suspended him permanently from racing for his unsportsmanlike behaviour.

The moral of the story: Passed is always a verb. Past is anything but a verb. And don’t be a sore loser. It’s passé.


What’s your favourite fable?

Image of Tortoise and the Hare from Wikimedia Commons

This post is dedicated to Shelley Sackier. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for Monday’s post, where I will question the quarrelsome letter Q…


© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: On To An Occasion

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

A to Z Letter OWhen I was thinking about how to explain the difference between on to and onto, this poem about travelling came to mind.

On to is about the journey.

Onto is about the destination.

Imagine that you have decided to take a journey on foot to a distant land. To get to your destination, you must reach the crossroads.

So you walk on to the crossroads.

This sentence is describing your journey to the crossroads. It could take you all day to get there, or it could take you five minutes. (Let’s go for all night and into the morning — it sounds suitably epic.)

Finally, you reach your destination and walk onto the crossroads.

At this point you are walking on top of the crossroads. You have arrived at a certain point.

You take the King’s Road, which winds through an ancient forest situated on the side of a steep hill.

Crooked Forest, Nowe Czarnowo

A forest like this one…


Unfortunately, you are going in the uphill direction, so you need to start climbing instead of walking. Once you are partway up, you spot a giant tree that has fallen across the road at the very top of the hill.

You groan in irritation, but you continue to climb on to the tree.

This describes your journey to reach the tree.

Your legs are killing you when you finally get to the top of the hill. After a brief pause, you begin to climb onto the tree.

Thankfully it has lots of hand- and footholds, and you make it to the top without too much trouble. You have made it onto the tree. You have arrived at your destination.

As you sit on top of your giant tree-bench, you reward yourself with a second breakfast. As you munch away, you hear occasional birdsong floating down from the birds that have landed onto the branches of the tall trees. As you finish the last crumbs and decide to move on to the river, you suddenly become aware of the silence. When did the birds stop singing?

Uh oh. You had forgotten that monsters occasionally travel this way…

Bonus Word: Occasionally

Before ending our story, let’s look at the tricky word occasionally, which is a challenging word to spell. How can you remember it?

If you separate the base word and its suffix, you get occasion + ally.

On the rare occasion when you encounter a monster, it is good to have an ally with you. Luckily, you remembered to bring your magic ring on your forest journey, and you call your wolf spirit animal to your side.

So now let’s look at the word occasion. It’s made up of two parts as well: occa + sion.  The -sion suffix is recognizable — it’s also used in tension, which you felt before you remembered your magic ring.

This leaves us with occa.

Which is perfect, because with your wolf at your side, you are going to be ok-kay. After all, wolves like seconds breakfasts, too. 😉


Have you ever been on a long journey?

Image of Crooked Forest, Nowe Czarnowo from Wikimedia Commons

(Shortly after writing this post, I saw this article about someone who doesn’t think onto is a word, and just had to share it here.)

This post is dedicated to everwalker and Rachel Small. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will pummel the pernicious letter P…


© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: Nauseating Nightmare

A to Z Letter NToday I’m going to talk about that nasty little word nauseous and its cousin nauseate.

Traditionalists will tell you that nauseous should only refer to something that induces nausea.

Trask was leading his comrades in a nighttime raid against the enemy village. Suddenly he stopped in his tracks. What was that nauseous smell?

When you encounter something nauseous, you feel nauseated.

Trask held up a cautionary hand to his followers while he tried to identify the smell. It was difficult to make out, because all he could think about was how it made him feel nauseated.

Striped Skunk

Could it be these guys? No, guess again!


Today’s English speakers often use nauseous to describe the state of feeling nausea: “I feel nauseous” rather than “I feel nauseated.”

Skrim was right behind Trask. He started to gag, although he was trying valiantly to suppress it. “I feel nauseous,” he mumbled.

Many people tell you that this usage of nauseous is wrong. But even Garner’s Modern American Usage notes that this is a Stage 4 usage, which means that it is virtually universal but “is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots).” And the Canadian Oxford Dictionary goes so far as to say, “Objections to the use of nauseous in this sense on the grounds that nauseated should be used instead are ill-founded. This is in fact by far the most common sense of nauseous.”

Trask hissed at Skrim through his teeth, “You’ll never get to be a leader if you don’t use your words correctly.”

“Sorry,” Skrim muttered. Trask was tough on everything, including language.

Trask barely heard Skrim’s reply. He felt overpowered by the nauseating stench. Finally he identified it as the nauseatingly daisy-fresh smell of recently washed humans. The village had clearly anticipated their arrival, and they had all taken baths!

“Gaaah!” he cried in frustration. “Trolls, retreat!”

The grimy, stinky horde shuffled off to find better pickings elsewhere.


What’s the most nauseous smell you’ve encountered?

Image of skunks by Tom Friedel from Wikimedia Commons

This post is dedicated to Loni Townsend. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will overwhelm the objectionable letter O…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: The Merits of Morale

A to Z Letter MMan down! In today’s rogue words story, I will help you to master two pairs of easily mixed-up words: morale / moral and meretricious / meritorious.

Morale vs. Moral

Although these two words are spelled almost the same way, their meanings are very different.

Morale (pronounced moh-RAL) describes the amount of confidence or enthusiasm an individual or group has at a particular moment in time. This word often comes up in military settings to describe the feelings of the troops.

Marissa was obviously feeling maudlin as she recounted the tale of their team’s struggle to make their way through the maze of alien streets.

“There we were, with Master Sergeant Melanie in the lead, surrounded on all sides by those alien maggots. We knew it would be a desperate fight, and that we might not make it out alive. But we had confidence in Sarge.

“Our morale was high, because we felt that she would get us through it.”

Moral (pronounced MOH-rul) describes the goodness or badness of human behaviour, and the distinction between right and wrong. This is where we get the saying, “the moral of the story.”

“But then that good-for-nothing Magnus decided that it was his turn to be leader, and he shot Sarge in the back. I never thought of him as a moral person, but to do that right in the middle of combat? We were all shocked.”

Meretricious vs. Meritorious

These words are mouthfuls, aren’t they?

Meretricious describes something that is showily attractive, but valueless. Interesting fact: It is derived from the Latin word for prostitute (meretrix).

“Magnus was one of those types who could afford all the best armor and the rare and powerful guns. He sure looked the part of a leader. But he was meretricious. No substance to him at all.”

Meritorious describes a person or act that has merit and deserves praise or awards.

“Sarge deserved a medal for everything she did for us. Her actions were meritorious. But now she was dead. And we knew we were all doomed.”

Mark leaned forward from his perch on the basement couch. His mouth full of potato chips, he asked, “So what did you guys do?”

“Oh, we killed the game,” said Marissa. “And we kicked Marcus off the server. There was no way we were playing with that loser again. Luckily it wasn’t that far back to the last save point, so we didn’t lose a lot of progress. And then we kicked alien butt! You should have seen us!”

Bonus Word: Maudlin

The word maudlin has a fascinating history. It means being foolishly sentimental or self-pitying, and is often associated with crying drunkards. It comes from the Old French Madeleine from the Latin Magdalena, and refers to pictures of Mary Magdalen weeping.


Have you read or used the word meretricious? I have yet to use it in my own writing. (Other than in this post, of course. There’s a first time for everything!)

Definitions are from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

This post is dedicated to Shelley Sackier and Shawn. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will nab that nuisance of a letter N…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015