Three Wrong Ways to Use the Apostrophe

The apostrophe is a difficult mark to pin down. Many people find it impossible to know where exactly to place it in a word. They simply wedge it in somewhere and hope for the best. Their text becomes festooned with apostrophes, particularly when words end in S. No wonder there are websites and Facebook groups devoted to gathering photographic evidence of apostrophic errors.

Be careful how you use the apostrophe.
Be careful how you use the apostrophe.

An apostrophe indicates that something belongs to someone or something, or has a relationship with it. This can be something concrete, like Mary’s coat, or abstract, like Mary’s happiness. It is also used to indicate that a letter has been left out, such as didn’t for did not. Ask yourself if the word you want to spell falls into these two categories. If it doesn’t, leave out the apostrophe.

Here are three instances when an apostrophe should never be used.

Its/It’s

The confusion between its and it’s is the most famous example of an apostrophic error. I’ve said that an apostrophe is used to indicate possession, but its is the exception. You use its to show that something is belonging to or associated with an object, an organisation or an animal: its habitat, its website, its colour. The apostrophe in it’s indicates that a letter has been left out, in this case an i, because it’s is short for it is.

For plurals

A lot of plural forms of words in the English language end in S. For example, boy becomes boys and book becomes books. Some people seem to believe that apostrophes are used to denote that a word is plural, so they will put it in before the s. But unless you are referring to something that belongs to more than one person i.e. the boys’ books, you never use an apostrophe for plurals.

Verb Forms Ending in S

A lot of verb forms in English end in S, particularly in the third person present tense i.e. he goes, she cooks. Some people believe that because these verb forms end in S, they need an apostrophe, so they write he goe’s or she cook’s. Apostrophes have no link to verbs, or action words, whatsoever. Ask yourself if the word you’re spelling describes an action. If it does, don’t use an apostrophe.

Have you come across any interesting apostrophic errors? What aspects of the apostrophe do you yourself struggle with?

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Three Food-Themed Creative Writing Exercises

I’m giving a food-themed creative writing workshop at the Harvest Food Festival in Waterford in September. I came up with the idea for the workshop not just because of my love affair with food but because I genuinely believe that food is a rich source of inspiration for stories.

 Vivid descriptions of food will make your readers salivate and yearn for more. You can explore the powerful link between food, emotions and memory. Writing about food can also help you develop your characters, as you explore what their attitude to food is and what role food plays in their relationships with others (dinner parties that go wrong etc).

Here are three food-themed creative writing exercises you can try to get your taste buds tingling. Some of these will feature in this food-themed workshop.

A Taste of Oranges

I have actually blogged about this exercise before, because it’s one of my favourites. Essentially, it encourages you to tune into all your senses at the same time by eating an orange and describing how it tastes, looks, feels, smells and sounds. You can then expand the exercise by writing about a food themed memory, of eating oranges or of meals that stuck out in your mind, for the right or wrong reasons.

Oranges work all of a writer's senses.
Oranges work all of a writer’s senses.

A Recipe for Happiness

This is a bit of fun, but it encourages people to explore the link between food and emotions. You write a recipe in the usual way, with the ingredients and the method, but instead of giving measures of flour and sugar, your ingredients will consist of the things that make you happy (30 minutes of sunshine, 3kg of laughter), and instructions for mixing the ingredients together. You could propose ingredients for a perfect day, or for a happy life in general. 

Guest vs Host

As I’ve said, food can shape your characters and how they relate to each other. Being invited to dinner is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, but the dynamics between guest and host can create friction. Write a story in which one of your characters invites another central character for dinner and describe a conflict that occurs during the dinner. Perhaps the host is overbearing or the guest is ungrateful. Use dialogue to capture the tension between them. Use descriptions of the food and how it is eaten to build an atmosphere. Perhaps the host has a perfect dinner table which is gradually destroyed throughout the evening.

 

Does food feature in your writing? Do you enjoy reading books with a food theme? Have you ever done food themed exercises and if so, what were they?