Be Smarter than Everyone Else with 2 Simple Grammar Rules

Today, I want to talk about smarts. Grammatical smarts, to be exact.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people misuse the word literally. It’s used incorrectly the majority of the time, and I think people need to be educated on its correct meaning.

His face literally dripped compassion.
No. Just, no.

Don’t be that person. Know what you’re saying and writing. Which brings me to the topic of this post: How to Be Smarter than Everyone Else.

Two simple rules: know how to use 1) apostrophes and 2) quotation marks.  

But I don’t care if I know how to use an apostrophe, you think. And I do know how to use quotation marks. To that I say, you should, and you don’t. So let’s start with the tiny punctuation mark that instantly gets anyone who has ever addressed a greeting card.

How to Be Smarter than Everyone Else #1: The Apostrophe 

My last name is Bumgarner. I am one person, a singular Bumgarner.
My husband is a Bumgarner as well. Singular.
Together, we are a family of two people, plural: the [wait for it…] Bumgarners.

For Christmas my in-laws received a decorative platter as a gift. It’s currently sitting on a shelf in the living room, and it says this: The Bumgarner’s. Clearly whoever wrote this did not understand the correct use of an apostrophe. Here’s why:

An apostrophe denotes possession.

Like this: Amanda Bumgarner’s apartment. Amanda Bumgarner’s husband. So in the case of the platter, the Bumgarner’s…what? It’s incomplete and incorrect. No one owns anything, so the apostrophe shouldn’t be there. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason the absence of an apostrophe looks strange, and everyone starts throwing it in there like it fits. Who was the first person to do this? I don’t know, but they should hope I never find them.

I’ve been training my own dear mother on this very concept. Whenever she addresses an envelope, she wants to add an apostrophe: The Reese’s, The Short’s, The Anderson’s.

And I have to say, “No, Mom, that’s not right.” I’ve given her such a hard time about it that she’s stopped doing it, and now she’s smarter than everyone else. Or, at least smarter than the people who still do it wrong, which doesn’t have to be you if you’re paying attention.

Okay, now what happens if you have plural people who possess something? What then?
My husband, Jordan, and I together are: the Bumgarners. We own a car, so an apostrophe is needed somewhere to show possession. Here’s how it would look:

The Bumgarners’ car.

This is a simple rule that is grossly misused by the majority of English speakers. Become part of the minority who’s smarter than the majority and learn how to use an apostrophe to show possession. If nothing is being owned, don’t use it.

How to Be Smarter than Everyone Else #2: Quotation Marks

 My second concern is that of quotation marks. These are most commonly used with dialogue, as seen in the following sentence: “Why are you so awkward?” she asked.

Here’s where it gets tricky: scare quotes. These are quotes around an individual word or phrase, usually when quoting from another source. Hypothetical example sentence:

My brother went out on a date last night, but he didn’t like the girl because he said she “had a pointy nose” and “looked like she had just crawled out of bed.”

In this case I’m using scare quotes because I want you to know that those are his exact words. This is a perfectly acceptable use of quotation marks, especially since in this case I wouldn’t want anyone to think I said those hypothetical things.

Quotation marks can also be used to note sarcasm when applicable: I find him “attractive.”
This means you don’t, in fact, find him attractive. Instead it means that you are using a secret code language that you came up with with your girlfriends. To you, attractive = Giantlike with warts.

Unfortunately, more often than not I see a flagrant misuse of quotation marks. This must end now. This blog is the perfect example of what I mean; it’s called The “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks, and it’s full of pictures showing quotes being placed on storefront signs where they should not be.

  • Please keep “children” with you at all times.  (So are they children, or do you mean pets? Or perhaps you mean your husband?)
  • Employees must “wash hands” before returning to work. (Or rub their hands together under water without actually using soap.)
  • We sell “real” meat. (In other words, fake meat.)

Hopefully you see what I’m talking about. Unintentional sarcasm can be your worst enemy if you want people (customers, whathaveyou) to a) take you seriously and b) not be scared of you or your possibly shady establishment or questionable personal morals.

So the next time you address an envelope, place your apostrophe carefully. And when you go to write quotes around a word or start to do “air quotes,” consider why you’re using them. Is it really something that is being quoted? Are you being sarcastic? If not, just don’t, and you’ll be well on your way to being “smarter” than “everyone” else.

I only tell you because I “care.”
Amanda Bumgarner’s

9 thoughts on “Be Smarter than Everyone Else with 2 Simple Grammar Rules

  1. Pingback: How to Punctuate Decades | Amanda Bumgarner

  2. Ok, so, what do you do when your last name ends with the letter s – or is that “s” 😉 Like my last name? I usually end up addressing my envelopes to the such and such family because it prevents the need for an apostrophe. Seriously, I wanna know these things.

    • You would say: The Flowerses– as in, multiple Flowers members. OR, The Flowerses’ car—as in, multiple people owning a car. When addressing envelopes for the Stevens Family, you would write: The Stevenses. However, for just ONE Stevens, you would say: Jim Stevens’s car. I hope that helps! I know it’s confusing.

  3. I saw at the back part of my brother’s motor with a sticker says that our family name use. But the letters write like this “JAYSON’S FAMILY” it was the example. I ask if it is right if our family name is JAYSON.

  4. It bugs me when people misuse “its” and “it’s”. And you see it so often, even on signs and other such things. If something like “it has” or “it is” works in the sentence, you use the apostrophe. If it doesn’t, there’s no apostrophe.

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