The Focus of This Blog

Just what the world was craving. This blog started out being about language, particularly the American English language, with a focus on grammar as both a practical pursuit and a topic of intrinsic interest. My hope is that it will be for some a useful guide and for others a diverting recreation. For me it has been both challenging and rewarding. And now, there’s more.

Now, with stories! That’s right, my blog is now packed with flavorful stories, in addition to its nutritious grammar articles. Under the heading “Tales of a Brooklyn Boomer,” you will find personal stories based on actual events from my youth in Sheepshead Bay, a very ethnic part of Brooklyn, during the post-World War II years. I try to make them lively, humorous, and true, and I hope you will enjoy them.

But wait…We have diagrams too! As a feature of this blog I will occasionally use the device of sentence diagramming to reveal the functions that individual words play in their sentences and their contribution to the meaning and effectiveness of the sentence as a whole: to show, in other words, the internal grammar of sentences. Diagramming can help the writer pinpoint problematic uses of words, phrases, and clauses.

As the sentence at the beginning of this entry states: Diagramming is a singularly effective way to analyze sentences and improve expression.

Note: This blog is affiliated with my friend Elizabeth O’Brien’s website on grammar, which is accessible at This is an excellent site with a full line of helpful products for those with any level of knowledge of English grammar who wish to learn more, including detailed “how-to’s” on the useful skill of sentence diagramming. I encourage you to take a look at Elizabeth’s very friendly site. Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive a share of any purchases you decide to make.

Click here to view more details on “Get Smart: Daily Lessons and Diagrams.”
Click here to view more details on “Basic Grammar Video Lessons.”
Click here to view more details on “Sentence Diagramming Exercises.”
Click here to view more details on the “Sentence Diagramming Reference Manual.”

8 thoughts on “The Focus of This Blog

  1. Another topic I would like to see discussed. Why is “Its” and It’s” the only word where there is a difference in the use of the apostrophe to denote a contraction or a possessive. For example “John’s going to the dry cleaner to pick up John’s pants”
    Obviously, the first is a contraction and the second is a possessive and they both use apostrophes. But try the same thing with “It” and the grammar Nazis will be all over you.

  2. Your suggestion about the root of the its/it’s problem is astute: the confusion arises from our inherent grammatical urge to associate the apostrophe with possession. By applying the “apostrophe rule,” many people are led to construe “it’s” as a possessive adjective instead of as the contracted form of “it is.” For the careful writer, the wisest course is to think of these words as homonyms; to distinguish between homonyms always requires memorization.

    The same is the case for at least two other tricky sets of pronominal homonyms: their/they’re/there and whose/who’s. Ya just gotta memorize ‘em.

    A related problem arises with the possessive pronouns “hers,” “ours,” “theirs,” and “yours.” The fact that these words carry a possessive sense leads many people down the path of inserting an unnecessary (and nonstandard) apostrophe in them. This understandable tendency yields the nonexistent forms *her’s*, *our’s*, *their’s*, *your’s*, and even *yours’*. The only solution is, again, memorization.

    We can console ourselves with the fact that we are safe using all these words in speech; it is only in writing that we are led into temptation. (Which raises the case of another pair of problematic homonyms: led/lead. But that is enough for now.)

  3. Thanks for the correction that “its” is the only possessive that lacks an apostrophe. I had forgotten about the other possessive pronouns. But to expand the question then, why do possessive pronouns drop the apostrophe while other possessives demand it. Maybe we need a different symbol for the contraction mark.

  4. The idea of coming up with a new diacritical mark to indicate contraction vs. possession is laudable, but I think it has about as much chance of being adopted as Esperanto has of becoming a true world language

    English, like all languages, is economical in its use of the tools at hand, both writing tools and oral tools. This is why homonyms and homographs exist, for example, and it is also why the same mark, the apostrophe, is used for two purposes.

    Etymologically, this dual use of the apostrophe is logical and historically justified. The apostrophe serves the same function in both uses: It is the mark used to indicate missing letters. In the case of possession, a phrase meaning “the book of John” became “John his book” and then “John’s book.” In the case of contraction, “would not” became “wouldn’t” and so on.

    • Interesting that in other romance languages there is no use of an apostrophe to indicate possession or contractions (which I am not sure even exist). At least as far as I know (which is not too far). Possession in Spanish, for example, either says “el coche de Roberto” (the car of Robert literally) or “suyo” for “his.” In the plural it’s suyos (theirs)–still with no apostrophe.

  5. Yes, it seems that the apostrophe causes fits as an indicator of possession uniquely in English. However, the apostrophe is widely used in French and Italian to indicate missing letters (as in “C’est la vie,” “Il n’est pas possible,” and “È la storia d’amore.”) While I have not yet encountered any apostrophes in my limited study of Spanish, I am willing to bet that they appear when a person is quoting, in writing, colloquial or slang Spanish, where letters are sure to be dropped to portray rapidity, and also in poetry, where letters would be dropped to make the meter work. Don’t you think?

  6. This is an intriguing site. I love thinking deeply about the lonely and misunderstood apostrophe, and all its uses. It’s a great blog space you have here, Dr. Grammarius. (Hope I had my apostrophes in the right place) :-)

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