I have to apologize. I don’t know the person to whom I’m apologizing, but someone deserves my apology. Here’s why.
I was riding my bicycle on the outskirts of town a month ago, and I passed someone’s yard that had a large pile of firewood. By the road was a sign that read, “Wood’s sold here.” One more example, I thought, of someone using an apostrophe-S to make a plural. I hate that. It’s wrong.
Even worse, I thought, “wood” doesn’t need to be made plural. It is a collective noun and already refers to the entire set of items, in this case, the bunch of firewood pieces. [Other examples of collective nouns are “luggage,” “baggage,” “jewelry,” and “furniture.”]
So the person’s sign was pretty funny to me. Soon after, I taught a one-day course on writing mechanics. While discussing correct apostrophe use, I used the example of that sign. We had a good chuckle about it. We felt superior. We would never use an apostrophe-S to make a noun plural.
Last week, again while teaching a course on mechanics, I used the example one more time (the last time I will use it!). We agreed that using an apostrophe-S to make a plural is wrong. Apostrophes are used to show possession or to make contractions. That’s it.
“Yeah,” one person noted, “that would be like saying ‘Wood is sold here.’ ” Ha-ha. [The apostrophe-S can be used to make a contraction with “is.” For example: “The team’s here” means “The team is here.”]
A second participant raised her hand and said, “Maybe that’s what the person meant to say.”
“You know,” I replied after an uncomfortable pause, “maybe that’s exactly what the sign is supposed to mean. Wood is sold here. In that case, the apostrophe-S is right.”
Some people, I am sure, use the apostrophe-S to make a plural because they see it frequently. It looks correct to them. In the same way, I am so accustomed to seeing signs stating “Wood sold here” that anything else looks wrong, or, at least, unusual. And I am so accustomed to seeing the apostrophe-S incorrectly used for plurals that I assumed that was the case with the sign.
I assumed that the person who wrote the sign was wrong, but maybe the apostrophe is correct. After all, the phrase “wood sold here” is an abbreviated form of “wood is sold here,” which can be written with a contraction as “wood’s sold here.”
Whoever you are, firewood-selling person, I apologize for making fun of your sign.
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