Posts two days in a row. Why?

After many months of silence this is the second day in a row that a post has appeared here. Why?

The story starts on May 1 when a tweet by Tim Ferriss about Coach.me, caught my eye, (he’s an investor). I downloaded the app and am trying the “Habit of Waking Up On Time” challenge. One of the suggestions is to replace the habit of sleeping in or hitting snooze with a new habit, which brings me to John Saddington, the programmer behind Desk app. In November John posted 10 Days to a Better Blog! — a series of exercises to get people blogging. I’ve had it bookmarked, and blogging exercises are much more productive than sleeping, so I’m working through the exercises when I wake up. Today’s exercise is to post about why I write. I’ve read ahead and some of them are a bit navel-gazing, like this one.

So why do I write?

I write to avoid forgetting. There’s a sweet spot where I use a technique a few times a year, but not all the time, and it requires some almost-repeated code, often SQL. I like to get those things into a blog post so the queries are easy to find, such as analyzing web server logs in MySQL. Sometimes I solve difficult problems and I don’t want to forget how. My posts on transferring a Boot Camp partition to a new hard drive and transcoding live video streams from IP cameras are examples of these.

There’s a second reason I write: to rant, hopefully constructively. This doesn’t happen often, but it has, this is a blog after all.

The third reason I write is to try to refine ideas. This kind of writing rarely ends up anywhere public, but writing, then editing, helps me figure out things I’m having problems with, from code to business to gardening and beyond.

National Punctuation Day

I was reading the in-flight magazine on Monday, and found something great.  Today is National Punctuation Day.  Check out the website and brush up on your punctuation.  Hopefully we can reduce the number of misplaced apostrophes and maybe even increase the number of serial commas.

Apostrophe

Apostrophes are often misused, as I noticed over the past few years. So, I am writing on the proper use of the apostrophe and the logic behind its rules.

Apostrophes only have two uses: to indicate that something has been taken out of the word, (or words), written, and to indicate a word is possessive when used with an “s.” Apostrophes are not used to pluralize words. To tell the truth, there is only the first usage, but this requires a history lesson which I’ll get to later.

Contractions

Contractions are the result of replacing letters or spaces with apostrophes, (this is the first use: indicating something has been taken out). For example, when “can not” becomes “can’t” the space and letters “n” and “o” are replaced by an apostrophe. Similarly, when “she is” becomes “she’s” the space and letter “i” are replaced by an apostrophe. Of course, it also works on proper nouns. For example, in “John’s going to the market” “John is” has been shortened to “John’s.” Incidentally, “John’s” is the same spelling and pronunciation as the possessive form of “John,” but not the plural form.

Possessive not Plural

Now for the history lesson. Once, a long, long time ago, a word made possessive was indicated by adding the letters “es” to the end of a word. For example, the sentence “Johnes house is big,” meant that my house is big. Over time, an apostrophe replaced the letter “e” and as a result, words are now usually made possessive by adding an apostrophe “s” to them. In modern English the sentence above reads “John’s house is big.”

Since a plural is generally indicated by adding a single “s” to the end of a word there is no “e,” or anything else for that matter. So, to pluralize, an apostrophe is never used. For this reason sentences like “Banana’s are on sale” or “Let the dog’s out” are incorrect.

Its, It’s, Your and You’re

The word “it” and its possessive can be quite confusing. It seems like the possessive should be written “it’s” but this is not the case. The reason is that “it” was invented after we had started using apostrophes to indicate possessive words, so there was never an “e” to replace. For this reason “it” has its own special possessive form similar to “his,” “your” and “yours,” and “her” and “hers.” The possessive form of “it” is “its.” Because the possessive form of “it” is “its,” the only time an apostrophe should ever be used with the word “it” is when writing a contraction such as “it’s sunny out” for “it is sunny out.”

“Your” and “you’re” also can be confusing because they both sound the same. The possessive of “you” is “your” but “you’re” is the contraction of “you are.” So, “your coat is dirty” is correct, but “you’re coat is dirty” is not; this is because it means “you are coat is dirty.”

Slang and Accents

Sometimes an apostrophe is used to help write slang or accents. In this case, as above, an apostrophe is used to replace missing letters and spaces. Some examples are “y’all” and “ma’am,” which if written out would be “you all” and “madam.” Using apostrophes to write slang and accents isn’t very common, and is only needed in a very few specialized circumstances.

Conclusion

To sum up, all you have to remember is to never use an apostrophe when writing a plural. Keep it for contractions and possessives. If you are confused about whether or not to write “its” or “it’s,” remember that the only reason to use an apostrophe with “it” is for a contraction – so if “it is” doesn’t fit “it’s” doesn’t either. The same rule applies to “your” and “you’re.” If “you are” is wrong so is “you’re.” So long for now, and happy writing!