Archive for February, 2012

Seeing as Jonathan Peace mentioned the other day that actually, some pointers on apostrophes might be useful, here are some.

I’ve trained around ten  journalists and edited the work of a lot more. I’ve seen job applications from a fair few others besides. It’s amazing how few people can’t use apostrophes properly. Of course, if you’re one of those people who can, you’ll probably find this all immensely patronising. Also, I’ve written this so a non-native English speaker might make use of it.  I mean no offence to natural English users with impeccable grammar. I’m just trying to do something useful. If you find it so, then marvellous.

There are only two categories of usage for apostrophes in English. To denote possession (it’s part of our vestigial genitive case, if you’re a grammar bore) and to indicate missing letters in the case of a contraction. Yeah, most people know that. The difficulty comes in the finer detail, and the finer the detail becomes, the closer to style it gets and the further away from hard grammatical rules.


Possessive singular

In singular examples, ie, when there’s one thing that owns something (or things) you add an apostrophe followed by an “s”.

Bob’s car.

The dog’s hat.

There are two possible exceptions to the possessive apostrophe s. It is common (though not a rule) stylistically to omit an apostrophe in a name, especially street names, or corporate brands.

Hadleys Street

Waterstones (which has just dropped its apostrophe).

The second exception is with names that end in an s, like Charles. This is where we get into style rather than hard and fast rules.

Some institutions use “Charles’” and some “Charles’s”. There is a rule of thumb that says if it is hard to say with an extra s on the end, like Euripides, use the apostrophe without the s, otherwise do. But most places that set stock on these things – newspapers or publishers – plump for one or the other.

Its, or it’s?

There’s a slight difficulty with “its“, and this is the one you see written incorrectly the most often. Everybody from large supermarket chains to government organisations screws this one up.

If you’re using “its” to denote possession, as in:

Its hat.

Its fur.

Its house.

You never, ever put an apostrophe after it to denote “it” owning something. This is to distinguish it from “it’s”, which is a contraction of “it is”.

Possessive plural

This is a bit easier. If there are lots of things owning something (or somethings), you use an s, followed by an apostrophe.

The monkeys’ bananas.

The doctors’ surgery.

The aliens’ spaceships.

Let’s take our monkey example:

The monkey’s bananas -  One monkey, lots of bananas.

The monkeys’ bananas – Lots of monkeys, lots of bananas

The monkeys’ banana – Lots of monkeys, one banana. (Poor monkeys).

Naturally, there is an exception here too. This applies to irregular plurals, like men, children, oxen etc. There are only a few, but there are lots of words with “men” in as a component and children is a common word, so you’ll see this a lot. In these cases, we use apostrophe s again.

The men’s car.

The children’s toys.

Why? Because the plural isn’t a simple “s”, so we already know there is more than one. The whole reason for all this is to let a reader know how many doctors or aliens or whatever we’re talking about, even though in speech there is no way to tell beyond inference on the part of the listener. Crazy, huh?

It looks more complicated with nouns whose plurals are the same as their singular, like deer, sheep, or fish, but it’s actually quite logical.

The fish’s eggs – One fish, lots of eggs

The fishes’ eggs – Lots of fish, lots of eggs (the “e” is in there to make it easy to say, that’s all).

The deer’s antlers – One deer, one set of antlers (unless it’s a really weird deer)

The deers’ antlers – Lots of deer, lots of antlers


English is full of contractions – didn’t, can’t, nothing’s… The rule here is if you omit any letters, you run the word preceding and the word with missing letters together. You then replace the missing letters with an apostrophe.

I did not do it – I didn’t do it

I cannot do it – I can’t do it

Nothing is happening – Nothing’s happening

Guy is mad – Guy’s mad

See that last one? That’s another where confusion often arises, because it looks the same as a possessive s. Sorry about that.

There are a limited number of standard contractions, but a ton of non-standard ones. This can get tricky, even silly, when we’re dealing with certain forms of archaic or poetical English (it was quite the rage in the 18th century to drop all kinds of things out, for example), or representations of colloquial speech and dialect. It’s perfectly normal to hear an English speaker say “It’s nothing” as “‘Snothing”. To see it represented in writing as such is also normal, but well, we’re breaking the rule, and again getting closer to style rather than grammar.

There we are.


A few weeks back I posted on how writing groups are a vital tool in the formation of one’s abilities as a writer. So I’ve been thinking, maybe we’ll do something along those lines here. Are there people among the readers of this blog, occasional or regular, who would like to put up short pieces of fiction, (no longer than 4000 words) for discussion by others? What do you think?

As a test for this, here’s a story by a nice man called Jonathan Peace. He, like I, is writing material for Mantic games. He’s got the writing bug really badly, and seems to be making his way just fine. He’s doing scripts, and has a self-published a book called The Magpie’s Lament.

This also might be very interesting for  Mantic fans. This is a Warpath universe story, and it might well appear on the Mantic website eventually. Both Jonathan and I are involved deeply in defining Mantic’s wargames worlds  (I’ll be spending the tail end of February writing the Kings of War background) and by reading this story, and commenting, you miniature wargamers out there can get an insight into, and get involved in, the creation of a new fantasy and SF property.

Hadors Promise

My comments on the story are below.


A brief post regarding the SFX Weekender. It’s like, wow, the end of this week.  I’ll be there, will you? As a publicity pig and part-time SFX flunky I’ll be hosting a couple of panels and yes, doing some signings. Also, I’ll be in the bar. A lot. So come and have a drink, because I like drinking even more than I like science fiction.

I’m confirmed for another convention already this year, more on that later, so don’t weep if you’re not coming and you really, really want to stand near me. I’m putting myself around a bit in 2012.


16.00 – Screening Zone

How to Get Published

I’ll be moderating the panel How to Get Published, a self-explanatory title. With me will be editors Anne Clarke of Orbit, Anne Lyle of Angry Robot, Simon Spanton of Gollancz, and David Howe of Telos. That’s a really good mix, covering two of the biggest imprints, the fast-rising new star on the block and a small press.  Referring back to my earlier posts on this matter, if these guys say something is so in this field, then that’s the way it is. A great opportunity to find a bit about how the publishing industry works, and tailor your writing plans accordingly.

As I’ll be directing the discussion, I’m not supposed to say much, but I’m sure if you want to ask me a few questions about how I got my words into the datasphere, I’ll be allowed to coyly answer.

18.00 – Bartertown

I’ll be signing my book Reality 36 alongside living legend Gav Thorpe at the Angry Robot stand in Bartertown. Come along and say hi. Maybe you could give me a cuddle. Gav’s great, but he’s not the cuddling sort.


10.00 – Bartertown

I’ll be on the Solaris stand with fellow author Jonathan Green. Although Champion of Mars isn’t out until May, please come along and I’ll tell you all about it. I’m sure I can sign Reality 36 too, if my publisher isn’t looking. This is a great chance to see what I look like with a hangover, by the way.

15.00 – Screening Zone

We’re All Doomed!

Another day, another panel to moderate, this one on apocalypses in SF. Generally more famous authors than me will be commenting, including Simon Bestwick, Ken MacLeod, Paul McAuley, and Gareth L Powell. I’ll be passing the conch.