Apostrophe catastrophe

The editors at Yahoo News have gone apostrophe-happy. Maybe they think an apostrophe is needed after every plural noun:

Why they would add an apostrophe to veterans is a mystery to me, especially since the name of the facility is Veterans Home of California (sans apostrophe). But adding an unnecessary apostrophe to what looks like a possessive is a common mistake at Yahoo. A mistake that can be avoided by following this advice from the Associated Press Stylebook:

Do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it is used primarily in a descriptive
sense: citizens band radio, a Cincinnati Reds infielder, a teachers college, a Teamsters request, a writers guide.

Memory Aid: The apostrophe usually is not used if for or by rather than of would be appropriate in the longer
form: a radio band for citizens, a college for teachers, a guide for writers, a request by the Teamsters.

So, in the case of that headline, it’s a home for veterans and therefore, a veterans home.

Even more mystifying is the apostrophe in months. I imagine the editors thought it was like the quasi possessives one year’s salary, two weeks’ notice, or seven years’ experience. It is not. Quasi possessive expressions involve measurement (such as a length of time or amount of money) and a noun. The expression 7 months pregnant includes a length of time and an adjective and there’s just no possessin’ an adjective.

(If you’re trying to figure out if you’re faced with a quasi possessive requiring an apostrophe, take a look at my memory aid here.)




Hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of errors

If I had a nickel for every error on Yahoo, I’d have hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of coins. Missing apostrophes, like those on Yahoo Finance, would contribute to my stash:

Sometimes a word ending in S looks like a plural, but it’s really a quasi possessive. This is a case of a quasi possessive. (It’s also an example of the genitive case, which is more grammar than I like.) If you’re unsure whether you’re faced with a simple plural or a quasi possessive, try this: Substitute the number 1 for the number in the phrase. So, instead of “millions of dollars worth,” try “one dollars worth.” Notice that I used dollars, and not dollar, because that sounds right to me. But of course it’s not a plural, so it must be a possessive: one dollar’s worth. This method depends on having an “ear” for correct language, something Yahoo writers seem to lack.



One day’s mistakes

So, the writer for Yahoo! Shine knew that there was something special about this expression (hmmm, maybe it requires some punctuation?), but wasn’t sure what. So, she came up with this:

20-years-worth shine hp

Nice try. But wrong. Really wrong. The correct expression is “20 years’ worth.” It’s what the Associated Press Stylebook calls a “quasi possessive” — a possessive-like form. The Chicago Manual of Style calls it the “possessive with genitive.”According to Chicago, the genitive implies “of”: an hour’s delay (a delay of an hour). Whatever.

Here’s an easy way to figure out if you have a quasi possessive: Substitute “one” for the number. If you find that the possessive form sounds right, then you’ve got a quasi possessive. In this case, you’d try “one year’s worth” and because you have an ear for language, you know that the possessive is correct. Which brings me to the most important aspect of this method: You’ve got to have “an ear” for correct English. If you don’t, forget I told you this.

Three days’ worth of errors

One day’s worth of errors on Yahoo! is more than I can handle. Here’s just one goof that you’ll find on Yahoo! omg!:

three days notice omg

If you want to impress your friends by writing excruciatingly correct text, you’ll put an apostrophe in that expression: three days’ notice. The Associated Press style guide calls this a “quasi possessive.” You can figure out if an apostrophe is required by substituting the word “one” for the number in the expression. So, you’d substitute “one” and come up with one day’s notice. Did you see that you didn’t use day, but used days? It just sounds right. But the only way it would make sense is if days is possessive. So, a possessive is required in that phrase. Similarly, you’d write one week’s pay and four years’ experience.

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