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Grammar and writing basics


This one just seems to kill people. Well, at least it kills me. Truly, I don’t know what is so befuddling about an apostrophe or, for that matter, pronouns, but they clearly are.
How many times have I seen “Who’s coat is this?”

Fasten your seatbelts.

One of the jobs of the apostrophe is to indicate a letter or letters are missing. In this case the missing letter is an “-i” or maybe “-ha.” (although not necessarily with “who.”) So, it can mean “who is” or “who has.” For example, “Who’s on first?” (With a tip of my hat to Abbott and Costello. The answer is, “I don’t know.” A very funny routine. Right up there with their [Oh, look there/their] “Slowly I turned.”)

Whose is a possessive pronoun meaning belonging to whom. (I know I said I’d like to see “whom” go away, but I can’t stop using it.) For instance, “Whose coat is this?”

I think the problem arises because most people don’t know the word “whose” exists.

Let’s go over it again. Pronouns have endings like the Romance languages (although you couldn’t tell it from the way people slaughter I and me).
Yes, those are endings.

I could go on a whole riff about teachers, their teachers and our teacher training system, but I’ll desist. Just one little thing: If you’re going to teach language arts, make sure you know language arts.

I think I need a harrumph here.

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July 2, 2009 um 1:37 pm
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  1. Nick Hobson

    One of the jobs of the apostrophe, as you say, is to indicate a letter or letters are missing. But another job, more relevant in the context of “who’s” vs. “whose”, is to indicate possession, as in “cat’s cradle”.

    Alas, while nouns and proper names indicate possession with “‘s”, many pronouns are irregular! Compare and contrast:

    The roof belonging to the house = The house’s roof
    The roof belonging to it = Its roof

    Students of English as a second language must love this irregularity! Surely “it’s roof” would be more consistent and make more sense? Similarly, we have:

    This coat belongs to Mary? = Is this Mary’s coat?
    This coat belongs to who? = Whose coat is this?

    Again, the student of English as a second language must wonder why we do not say, “Who’s coat is this?”

    Of course, English wouldn’t be any fun if it were completely regular! But maybe the above irregularities are part of the reason for the common confusion between “it’s” and “its”, and “who’s” and “whose”?

    #1 Comment vom 05. July 2009 um 2:12 am

  2. admin


    ESL students I can forgive since English is so unforgiving, but the person who was born here…. I’d like to think he/she knows better. I live and dream.

    #2 Comment vom 06. July 2009 um 4:36 pm

  3. roofer somerset

    Oops was doing a google search for roofing and came across this post. Not exactly what I was searching for but much more interesting lol! Oh well, gotta get back to work…thanks, bp

    #3 Comment vom 27. November 2009 um 9:03 am

  4. admin

    Hi BP,

    Everyone is always welcome even if he got here by mistake. And thanks for thinking it’s interesting. My passion, everyone else’s snore.

    #4 Comment vom 09. December 2009 um 12:43 pm

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