Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Writing Voice: Punctuation Communicates!

Hi all... In keeping with my theme for this blog "All Things Vocal", I want to address the writing voice today. It matters. Music makers also need to be able to communicate in non-musical ways, and be assessed as somewhat intelligent to be taken seriously. I am stunned at the bad presentation of thoughts written by some people I otherwise know to be very smart. 

I'm not sure why people don't capitalize or use all caps, write 'there' when they mean 'their', spell atrociously - even when that red squiggly line beneath the word is begging them to reconsider. Texting - well of course that's one reason. You can really help yourself by remembering that text language is not, and doesn't necessarily need to be, formal writing. It's shorthand. We all need to up the ante on our English to be taken as serious people. If you want to bend the rule for fun or originality like e.e. cummings, learn the rules first so you know how to break them on purpose intelligently!

Here is an email sent by a dear friend of mine who is also deeply concerned (and also hilarious!). Ron Oates is a legendary, platinum-selling studio producer, pianist, arranger, composer - and astute writer of English. Here is his great rant about just one of the things we need to address in our public writing - the lowly apostrophe:
It is flaggerbasting (my spell check just fainted) to look at professional websites and publications... major magazines, newspapers and best-seller list books... with blatant grammatical and punctuation errors. It dampens my opinion of the individual (or the company’s) credibility when those things fly off the screen or the printed page in my face. One of the common idiocies is the omission of the apostrophe from the word “we’re”, making it “were” and, therefore, a nonsensical sentence. Without a doubt, the apostrophe is the most commonly abused mark of punctuation. You might find this difficult to grasp as did I, but there has been a campaign for the last five or six years to abolish the apostrophe. WHAT???

I think I recall telling you that my secret dream as a youngster and teenager was not to have a life in music, but to grow up to be an English professor. [Judy's note: That would have been most unfortunate for the singers like Gladys Knight, Eddie Arnold, Sawyer Brown, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly, Dobie Gray, Dave Loggins, yours truly and an absolute ton of others he's worked with through the years]
In keeping with that thought, or revelation, you’re (or if they ditch the apostrophes, your) going to think I’m obsessed when I show you the kinds of things I find interesting. For instance, in this instance, the apostrophe:

The apostrophe may be the simplest and yet most frequently misused mark of punctuation in English. Here are six guidelines for using the mark correctly.

1.    Use an Apostrophe to Show the Omission of Letters in a Contraction

Use the apostrophe to form contractions:

•    I'm (I am)
•    you're (you are)
•    he's (he is)
•    she's (she is)
•    it's* (it is)
•    we're (we are)
•    they're (they are)
•    isn't (is not)
•    aren't (are not)
•    can't (cannot)
•    don't (do not)
•    who's (who is)
•    won't (will not)

Be careful to place the apostrophe where the letter or letters have been omitted, which is not always the same place where the two words have been joined.

2. Use an Apostrophe with -s for Possessives of Singular Nouns

Use an apostrophe plus -s to show the possessive form of a singular noun, even if that singular noun already ends in -s:

•    Harold's crayon
•    my daughter's First Communion
•    Sylvia Plath's poetry
•    Dylan Thomas's poetry
•    today's weather report
•    the boss's problem
•    Star Jones's talk show
•    Victoria Beckham's husband

3. Use an Apostrophe Without -s for Possessives of Most Plural Nouns

To form the possessive of a plural noun that already ends in -s, add an apostrophe:

•    the girls' swing set (the swing set belonging to the girls)
•    the students' projects (the projects belonging to the students)
•    the Johnsons' house (the house belonging to the Johnsons)
•    If the plural noun does not end in -s, add an apostrophe plus -s:
•    the women's conference (the conference belonging to the women)
•    the children's toys (the toys belonging to the children)
•    the men's training camp (the training camp belonging to the men)

4. Use an Apostrophe with -s When Two or More Nouns Possess the Same Thing

When two or more nouns possess the same thing, add an apostrophe plus -s to the last noun listed:

•    Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia Ice Cream
•    Emma and Nicole's school project (Emma and Nicole worked together on the same project)
•    When two or more nouns separately possess something, add an apostrophe to each noun listed:
•    Tim's and Marty's ice cream (Each boy has his own ice cream.)
•    Emma's and Nicole's school projects (Each girl has her own project.)

5. Do Not Use an Apostrophe with Possessive Pronouns

Because possessive pronouns already show ownership, it's* not necessary to add an apostrophe:

•    yours
•    his
•    hers
•    its*
•    ours
•    theirs

However, we do add an apostrophe plus -s to form the possessive of some indefinite pronouns:

•    anybody's guess
•    one's personal responsibility
•    somebody's wallet

* Don't confuse the contraction it's (meaning, "it is") with the possessive pronoun its:

•    It's the first day of spring.
•    Our bird has escaped from its cage.

6. Generally, Do Not Use an Apostrophe to Form a Plural

As a general rule, use only an -s (or an -es) without an apostrophe to form the plurals of nouns--including dates, acronyms, and family names:

•    Markets were booming in the 1990s.
•    The tax advantages offered by IRAs make them attractive investments.
•    The Johnsons have sold all of their CDs.

To avoid confusion, we may occasionally need to use apostrophes to indicate the plural forms of certain letters and expressions that are not commonly found in the plural:

•    Mind your p's and q's.
•    Let's accept the proposal without any if's, and's, or but's.

Ron Oates

Jes Fine Productions

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