Saturday, July 5, 2008

Cleaning up a mess

A little reorganization here, a word or two or three (maybe even a hundred) added there, many extraneous words deleted, a cup of hot coffee by my side, and concentration ... with all of these in hand I just might be able to resurrect "Their" vs. "There" vs. "They're".

I decided this morning, after re-reading yet one more time the above post, to give it a grade of D, not 'pretty good' as I stated in my response to Tammy's comment. Certainly no higher than a C-. SO, with all that in mind, this might take a while. Hopefully, tho, the finished product will warrant at least a B. (If you haven't done so already, you might want to quickly read through my post of July 4th so that you know what the devil I'm talking about.)

Apostrophes ...

When we see a word that has an apostrophe, two thoughts immediately come to mind ... ...

1) The word is a 'contraction' of two different words, and the apostrophe is taking the place of one or more missing letters in the second word.

2) The apostrophe is indicating 'possession'. (Whatever comes before the apostrophe 'owns' or 'has' something.)

Let's look at some examples. Then we'll discuss them. Let's start with "I" and "he/she" along with "we/they".

[By the way, did you notice that in the preceding sentences there are three words that have apostrophes? Two 'let's' and one 'we'll'. What are they? They are all contractions! In "let's", the apostrophe takes the place of the missing 'u'. So, let's = let us. In "we'll", the apostrophe takes the place of two missing letters, the 'w' and 'i'. Ergo, we'll = we will.]

a. I've wanted a baseball like that for a long time, and now I have one. My parents bought it for me as a birthday present. It is my ball. It's mine. (Note: two apostrophes, two contractions.) "I've" = I have. [Why didn't I use a contraction for 'I have' later in the sentence? Well, technically it would be correct, I suppose, but hardly anybody talks like that these days. People would look at you like they couldn't believe their ears! "Whaaat!! Have you been drinking?"] "It's" = It is. [I could have done the same thing in the previous sentence, but it's just not my personal writing style to repeat the same words -- or variations on same -- too frequently.]

b. Henry went to the store. He was 'just looking' and didn't really have all that much money, anyway. All of a sudden, tho, he saw something that he could afford. Quickly, he snatched it up and took it to the cash register. When the clerk announced the total amount that he owed, Henry proudly produced it. "It's mine!" he shouted. The clerk smiled and said, "Yes, Henry, it's yours."

Then, going on down the street and grinning from ear to ear, Henry ran into some of his friends. They exclaimed, "Look at what you have. You've got one! It's yours!!" "Yes," Henry smilingly acknowledged. Later that day, his friends were heard to say, "Henry's (whatever it was that Henry bought) is really fine. I wish I had one! It's his. It belongs to him!"

[How many words with apostrophes do you see in the above example? (7) Which ones are contractions? Well, there is "didn't" (did not), "it's" (it is -- four of those!), and "you've" (you have).

What about "Henry's"? If you assume that it is a contraction, then the sentence would read, in a somewhat more elongated version, "Henry is is really fine", which makes no sense whatsoever, would you agree?

And so, we have our first example of when an apostrophe indicates possession rather than a contraction. I'll expand upon this further in just a moment. For now, however, let's go on to "we/they".]

c. For many years, Munising's high school football players had wished for a new practice field. It seems that, for a long time, they had been practicing in what used to be cow pastures and trying to avoid stepping on or falling in 'patties'. Then, one year, it was announced that an anonymous benefactor had donated the necessary funds to provide same. Everyone was excited. They couldn't wait to see what it would look like! Finally, the big day arrived.

Lots of comments were overheard ... "I can't believe it's ours!" "This is our practice field!" And, in later years, "And to think that they used to practice in cow pastures. It's hard for me now to imagine that their practices used to include drills in avoiding patties." "Look at those new jerseys! They're really looking good."

[Six words in the above example have apostrophes. How many are contractions? (5) "couldn't" (could not) "can't" (can not) "it's" (it is -- twice) "They're" (they are)

"Munising's" cannot be a contraction because the sentence makes no sense if you use the word 'is' after Munising. Here, as in "Henry's" in example 'b', the apostrophe indicates possession.]

Pronouns ...

We use so many pronouns in our everyday language that we don't even think about them beforehand. How many of you remember the old Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller? I don't remember him using many pronouns. I remember, "Tarzan go now." "Cheetah sick?" Stuff like that. (Didn't use a lot of verbs, either!)

In example 'a' above, we don't know who it is who's talking. The apostrophes that exist are all part of contractions. Yet there are five words in that paragraph that indicate possession. Can you find them all?

"My" is used three times ... 'My' parents, 'my' ball, and 'my' personal writing. "Their" and "mine" once each ... 'their' ears, and It's 'mine'.

In example 'b', we're talking about Henry, but rather than use Henry's name each time we want to refer to him, we say 'he' ... or, if something belongs to him, we could say 'his' instead of Henry's. If we use his name, then the apostrophe must be entered to show possession. Six examples of possessive pronouns are there, none of which have apostrophes.

"Mine" (It's 'mine'), "Yours" (it's 'yours' -- twice), "His" ('his' friends -- twice, It's 'his').

In example 'c', the possessive pronouns are found in the second paragraph. "Ours" (it's 'ours'), "our" ('our' practice field), and "their" ('their' practices).

What should be extrapolated from all of this is that pronouns are never used in conjunction with an apostrophe unless they're (they are) part of a contraction. (Do you remember "Its" vs. "It's"? Similar.) NOW, let's see if I can finally get to the heart of this lesson, which is ...

Their vs. There vs. They're ...

They're ... I've covered apostrophes out the wazoo here, so I think it should immediately jump out at you that this is a contraction. Enuf said.

Their ... a possessive pronoun, but how can you remember to spell it 'eir' instead of 'ere'? Sometimes, I've found that word association helps. If you take the 't' off of 'their', what do you have? You have 'heir', which usually refers to a person who is 'in line' for an inheritance of some sort. The inheritance could be in the form of money, property, or even title (Prince Charles, for example). That might be one good way for you to remember it.

[For years, I had trouble remembering how to spell these words ... principal/principle and stationary/stationery ... I was ALWAYS having to look the meanings up in the dictionary! I got really tired of doing that every single time and made a concentrated effort to somehow try and find a way to get at least ONE of each two permanently affixed in my memory banks. Locating the word 'pal' in principal pretty much solved that one, and then noting that the 'er' in stationery was exactly how the word 'letter' ended took care of the other.]

There ... Well, it's not a contraction and it doesn't refer to an actual person, place or thing, so it's not a pronoun, either! Ergo, an apostrophe would not be used. Nor would it be spelled like 'heir'.

[It has often (because it's true!) been said that the dictionary defines one big word with another. The word 'there' often has such an ambiguous meaning that it seems, at times, to have no meaning at all.]

SO, my recommendation (especially for you, Katie) would be this. If you KNOW that it's not a contraction and you're pretty certain that the word doesn't actually take the place of or refer to a person, place or thing, use "there". I'll bet that you won't be often wrong. (Does "here, there, everywhere" help at all?)

My goodness, my goodness, my goodness, this has been a long one!! I don't know about all of you guys, but I'm ready to go on to another subject entirely.

PS. As always, I invite your comments and/or questions, but -- PLEASE -- don't come back at me with personal pronouns, adjectives vs. possessive pronouns, or anything else of that nature! I was trying to be of help here to a friend who was having a particular problem. As usual I got mired in my own rhetoric. And, although this post tries to answer the question from a somewhat different angle, I don't know that it's any better. I would give it a grade of no higher than a C.

PPS. Altho I began this post yesterday morning, my computer started acting up a bit. I had to confer with DSL (dreaded son-in-law) to get it straightened out. It's now almost 10:00 on Sunday morning. I apologize for the delay in getting this published.

1 comment:

Tammy said...

Much thanks! I hope this will help Katie out. :)