Monday, June 11, 2018

R&R: Raves and Rants from Multi-Published Author Amanda Cabot

I'm so pleased that Amanda Cabot is going to be a monthly contributor to this blog. I've always admired her mastery of grammar as I suffer from grammar-itis.
Thank goodness we have folks like Amanda around to help us.
Take it away, Amanda.

Welcome to R&R.  No, we’re not going to talk about rest and relaxation today.  R&R is shorthand for “One Writer’s Raves and Rants.”

When L.A. invited me to write a monthly column, she suggested I discuss grammar, perhaps because she knows that I’ve been known to throw books across the room – at least figuratively – when I encounter basic grammatical mistakes.  She might also have made the suggestion because she knew I once wrote a column whose original title was “In Defense of the Semicolon.”
Even though I suspect most of you are rolling your eyes, wondering if you’re going to be subjected to a discourse on that much maligned punctuation mark, I can assure you that there will be no semicolons … at least not today.  Furthermore, as the column’s title implies, there will be more than rants about grammatical mistakes here.  I’ll also talk about things that I see other authors doing well.  But today, we’re talking about grammar, and I’m going to rant about the misuse of the apostrophe.

I can’t imagine writing without apostrophes.  They’re used for contractions and to indicate a word’s possessive case, but – except in one extremely limited instance – they are NOT used to make a word plural.  (Did you notice how I used apostrophes in that sentence?  Those are the correct usages.)

Now, let’s start the rant.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen sentences like the following in published and supposedly edited books.  “They’re having dinner with the MacLean’s.”

What’s wrong with that?  If this were a book set in Scotland where the head of the clan is called “the MacLean,” the only problem might be that it’s missing a noun at the end of the sentence.  Perhaps the author meant to say that someone was having dinner with the head of the clan’s daughter.

Unfortunately, 99.9% of the time when I see a sentence like this, it’s a mistake.  A big one.  In all likelihood, the author’s intent was to say that someone was having dinner with several people whose last name was MacLean.  But our grammatically challenged author didn’t know that the correct way to form the plural of MacLean is very simple – MacLeans. 

No apostrophe! 

The same rules that apply to common nouns apply to proper ones like names.  The plural of chair is chairs, not chair’s.  The plural of horse is horses, not horse’s.  Why would anyone think that the plural of MacLean is MacLean’s or that the plural of Smith is Smith’s?  There’s only one reason I can imagine, and that’s that they didn’t know any better.

What if you were having dinner with several people whose last name is Simmons?  How would you form that plural?  No, it’s not Simmons’.  The answer is Simmonses.  If that seems awkward, I agree.  That’s why I changed one of my characters’ names from Simmons to something that did not end in an “s.”

We’re almost done.  Remember that I said there is one extremely limited instance when an apostrophe is used to create a plural.  Do you know what it is?  Lowercase letters, but only if the apostrophe is needed for easy comprehension. 

Consider the first letter of the alphabet.  I doubt anyone would misunderstand, “The child wrote a full line of As.”  But what about “a full line of as.”  Clearly, you need something to distinguish the word “as” from the plural of “a.”  That’s where our helpful apostrophe comes into play.  The same thing happens with the letters “i” and “u,” but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

So, repeat after me.  Apostrophes are almost never used to make a word plural.

End of rant.


A lifetime of reading and writing, not to mention a host of teachers who believed that good grammar was one of the essentials of life, have given Amanda Cabot such firm opinions about the printed word that I asked her to share some with us in her Raves and Rants posts.  Although her working career was in Information Technology, Amanda achieved her dream of selling her first novel before her thirtieth birthday and is now the author of more than thirty novels as well as a number of books and articles for Information Technology professionals.  Her most recent release is A Borrowed Dream, the second of the Cimarron Creek trilogy.

Find all of Amanda's books, newsletter info and social media links here.


  1. This post earns a rave from me, Amanda! From the first paragraph of your apostrophe rant, I became keenly aware of my urge to sprinkle apostrophes willy-nilly across pages. But oh, you say it isn't so! Possessive vs plural vs contractions, the usage of the apostrophe is as specific as it is diversified.

    You mentioned you changed a character's name so you wouldn't have to deal with the "s" at the end. Well, my last name is Harders and the entire pluralization of it is a problem. Adding -es to the end of Harders, well, it just looks wrong. And, I'm constantly emphasizing the "s" at the end of my name so people won't drop it off my email address.

    I'm glad to see you'll be a monthly contributor to L.A.'s blog, Amanda. I'm looking forward to seeing what earns a rant or a rave from you!

  2. Thanks for visiting, Audra. I realized that I have a lot of character names that end in an S and it's not pretty when an "es" is added.

    I'm so happy Amanda is here. Can't wait to see what she R&R's (?) about in future blogs. This one is a keeper.

  3. Amanda, you make reading about grammar fun! No apostrophes in that sentence. I look forward to your monthly rants and raves. Cheers

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  5. Thank you Amanda! I am going to enjoy your monthly Raves and Rants! This is the perfect place for me to send my writing students who suffer the same grammatical maladies.

  6. LA, thanks for suggesting a grammar column. I'm glad to see that it's intrigued (and perhaps helped) at least a few people.

  7. May I make a request? Would you write about the em and en dashes? As you know, it's hard for me to not sprinkle them here and there and willy nilly!

    1. Gretchen -- I'll add that to the list of possible subjects. It'll be a few months, though, before it hits the top of the queue, since misused dashes aren't as egregious as many of the other errors I find.

  8. Thank you oh Grand Grammar Guru for this vital review, much needed by those of us who paid more attention to Shelia Woods in third grade, rather than the grammar lessons. I shan't miss a column if I can help it.

    A question. Does this apply to Jesus as well? I seem to recall some old bible study materials using "Jesus' disciples..." instead of Jesuses disciples. I assume es is still preferred?

    P.S. Feel free to use my responses to illustrate all the grammar mistakes.

    1. Actually Jesus' disciples is possessive as they are His disciples. But would it properly be Jesus'es disciples?

    2. Roulf -- There are two schools of thought on how to form the possessive of Jesus. Old-school says Jesus' -- no final "s" which is an exception to the rule. New-school says Jesus's. The only time you'd write Jesuses is if there are two people named Jesus.

  9. Great piece, Amanda! Thanks for your wise words, as always!