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Punctuation Help for Photographers: A Guide to Writing and Proofing, Part 2

Almost everyone has a blog these days. They’re an effective way to communicate with our audiences. They offer us a way of sharing our work, our creativity, and even some of our personality with potential clients. In a way, they’re our shop fronts, without a hefty rent! Photography blogs are usually heavy on images, light on words. We’re photographers after all. We’re paid for our images, not our words. I get it. Yet something still bothers me.

If you had a real piece of real estate as your shopfront, would you leave bits and pieces of this and that just lying around? Would you put promotional signage up that you’d just scrawled on a piece of paper with a Sharpie? No, I don’t think so. You would put a lot of care and effort into getting that window display just right, and you’d probably hire a professional sign writer to make all your signage.

So why not put as much care and effort into your blog? It is, after all, your modern-day shop window. People come, look at the pretty pictures and, if you’re lucky, they get interested enough to stop a while and read the content.

Imagine how disappointed they are when they read this:

“I just adore getting a peek into peoples lives.”

Or this:

“Heres a small portion of this lovely families gallery.”

Or this:

“Heres a sneak peek from todays session.”

If they’re anything like me, they gasp in horror and reach for the nearest red pen. Okay, so perhaps not all your readers are as prone as I am to hyperventilating at the sight of a gaping hole where an apostrophe should be. Maybe they’ve learned to let go… Or perhaps they’re just too polite to say anything. So I’ll do it for them: Learn to punctuate!

One of my favourite authors, Mem Fox, usually writes like this:

“Here is the blue sheep. Here is the red sheep. Here is the bath sheep. Here is the bed sheep. But where is the green sheep?”

Fox, M. & Horacek, J (2004) Where is the green sheep? Camberwell, Vic.: Penguin Group/Viking

But occasionally she writes like this:

“All apostrophes are tricky but apostrophes of possession are the trickiest of all. In students’ (and photographers’) writing they are used wrongly so often that it’s now a welcome surprise to see them used correctly. Getting them right will earn you a great deal of extra respect from your readers (potential clients) — they’ll sit up and take notice. They’ll beam. And they’ll be much more likely to view your writing (and your photography) positively. It’s classy — and essential — to be able to put the apostrophe of possession in the right place.”

[Words in parentheses added by me.]

Fox, M. & Wilkinson, L. (1993) English Essentials: The wouldn’t-be-without-it guide to writing well. South Melbourne: MacMillan Education Australia.

Types of apostrophes:

Most of the time, it’s not that hard to get apostrophes right if you just learn the rules. So how do you get it right? What are the rules for apostrophes? There are two types of apostrophes: the apostrophe of possession and the apostrophe of contraction. Let’s deal with the apostrophe of contraction first, because it’s the simpler of the two. (There were two of them in that last sentence. Did you see them?)

Contractions:

Here is the rule:

Use an apostrophe of omission when something is left out. Simple? You betcha!

So, let’s look at the sentence above with two apostrophes of contraction: “Let’s” is actually an abbreviation of “let us”, where the /u/ has been omitted, so you put an apostrophe in its place, and “it’s” is short for “it is” (where the /i/ has been omitted, and replaced with an apostrophe. Here are some other examples:

Can’t, short for “can not”

Won’t, short for “will not”

Shan’t, short for “shall not”

Here’s, short for “here is”

Tricks and traps:

Be warned, though, that there are  tricky things that look like they should have an apostrophe of omission, but actually don’t need one. “Its” is a case in point. There is a difference between “It is”, which contracts to “it’s” and “its” the possessive pronoun. So how do you tell the difference? Easy: Just try to expand what looks like a contraction and see if it makes sense. For example:

“It’s raining today” can be expanded to “It is raining today” and still make sense. “The dog wagged its tail” doesn’t make any sense if you try to expand it: The dog wagged it is tail.” Hunh? No apostrophe needed. The ‘its’ in this sentence is the possessive pronoun. (Compare “his”, “her”, “my”.)

 

Apostrophes of possession:

And what of apostrophes of possession? Well, you just need to learn to ask the right question: To whom, or to what, does the noun belong? Then write down the answer to that question, add an apostrophe and an /s/ (unless the noun is plural, then no need to add an /s/). Let’s look at some examples. Following the convention in English Essentials only the sentences in bold type are correctly punctuated.

Unfortunately the green sheeps clothing did not fit the wolf.
To whom does the clothing belong?
The green sheep.
Add apostrophe, then the /s/: the green sheep’s
Unfortunately the green sheep’s clothing did not fit the wolf.

 

The dogs pitiful wails could be heard all over the neighbourhood whenever he was left at home alone.
To whom or what do the pitiful wails belong?
The dog.
Add apostrophe /s/: The dog’s
The dog’s pitiful wails could be heard all over the neighbourhood whenever he was left at home alone.

 

The dogs pitiful wails could be heard all over the neighbourhood whenever they were left at home alone.
To whom do the pitiful wails belong?
The dogs.
Add apostrophe (and no /s/ in this case, because ‘dogs’ is plural): The dogs’
The dogs’ pitiful wails could be heard all over the neighbourhood whenever they were left at home alone.

 

(You’ll notice that I’ve used the British spelling “neighbourhood”. I’m from Australia!)

 

Tricks and traps:

There are some possessives that are really quite difficult to recognize, and they’re to do with time:

Today’s shoot was so much fun!
Last week’s portrait session was postponed because Suzie had measles.
I’m really looking forward to next week’s proofing session. You’re going to love your images!

In the above examples time is the owner. So, “today” owns the shoot, “last week” owns the portrait session and “next week” owns the proofing session. Weird, hunh? I know. You’re just going to have to trust me with this one.

There are also some words that look like they should be possessives, but actually are not. They are in fact descriptions. Take “childrens photography” for example. The photography doesn’t belong to the children. The word “childrens” describes the photography. (Compare pet photography, portrait photography, landscape photography). Ladies toilet, teachers college, and childrens literature are other examples in this category.

Does that make sense now? I hope so. So let’s return to the incorrect sentences that I read on real blogs that prompted me to write this post in the first place:

I just adore getting a peek into peoples lives and how they decorate, and love, should read: I just adore getting a peek into people’s lives…..

Heres a small portion of this lovely families gallery, should read: Here’s a small portion of this lovely family’s gallery because “Here’s” is a contraction of “here is” and who owns the gallery? The family. It’s just one family, a family that deserves an apostrophe /s/ (and should not be written in the plural form as that blog’s author chose to do).

 

And one more for the record:

It’s “photos” not “photo’s” for the plural of photo. I know from comments one of Jodi’s previous posts that the question of an apostrophe in “photos” is a bone of contention amongst her readers. While it can be argued that “photo’s” is correct because it’s a contraction of “photographs” (and thus requires an apostrophe of contraction), the word “photo” has now been accepted into the English language as a word in its own right. It has its own separate entry in my dictionary, with the plural given as “photos”. That’s good enough for me.

 

Jennifer Taylor is a Sydney child and family photographer who also holds a PhD in Early Childhood Education specializing in literacy development and bilingualism. When she’s not taking photos, spending time with her family or teaching yoga, she can be found standing outside real estate agents’ windows, red pen in hand.

 Punctuation Help for Photographers: A Guide to Writing and Proofing, Part 2

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9 Comments

  1. 1
    Tamara Curry says:

    Why does anyone say, “Childrens Photography,” in the first place? Children is plural already, so if they are saying it with an “s” it is in a possessive manner. It needs either to drop the “s” entirely or to add the apostrophe. By Jennifer’s description, there really should be no “s” since “childrens” is not a word.

    By the way, thank you for the comment on “photos,” Jennifer!

    • 1.1

      I see your point, Tamara. Perhaps we should say “child photography”? But then there’s some ambiguity if you say “I’m a child photographer”. Does that mean that I photograph children? Or that I’m a child myself? Checking my grammar books, I find that “childrens literature” is given the tick of approval, — where the word “childrens” is clarifying the type of literature (cf: adolescent literature, Greek literature)– along with “ladies toilet”, “Lands Department” and “teachers college”.

  2. 2
    Karen says:

    Thanks for the encouragement to use grammar well! Nothing sticks out worse than incorrect usage :>)

  3. 3
    Tom says:

    I thought this was a photography blog? The MCP actions’ logo has a tagline stating, “your shortcut to better photographs”. It doesn’t read “your shortcut to proper English”. If you were to ask me, this post was a vent and a dig at the overall grammar and education of photographers. Would you like to explain the difference between your and you’re as well? Or perhaps their and there?

    • 3.1

      Tom,

      It is a photography blog. We post on a wide variety of topics including taking pictures, lighting, focus, post processing, and marketing. At times we cover specialty items such as writing. We get requests for these. If you are not interested in this topic, I completely understand. Just come back next week and see our new posts. We have close to 200,000 unique visitors monthly and are aware that we cannot please everyone with every article.

      Thank you for expressing your opinions.

      Jodi
      MCP Actions

  4. 4
    Amy says:

    THANK YOU! I don’t get as much annoyed when the apostrophe is left out, but people now are adding them to make any word plural (example: “I need to feed the dog’s.”)

    You are right. As soon as I see an error like one mentioned above, I leave the site. I feel that if someone cannot master basic english skills that I learned every single year since 4th grade, that their other skills may be lacking as well. That isn’t always the case, but it is what goes on in my head. If you know you have a problem with spelling (as in the case of dyslexia or other issues of the sort,) have someone proofread your posts!

  5. 5
    Adam says:

    Reading this hurts my head. It is great info, but I struggle with it. No wonder I majored in Math & Computers in University! :)

  6. 6
    Pene says:

    it irritates the **** out of me when people write stuff like “your going to take some photos” and “that’s you’re coffee” and “I thunk he took some photos” and “he drugged it out of the way” (the last 2 I hear more & more on american tv)

  7. 7
    Immi says:

    Misplaced and missing apostrophes are so profuse today. It is certainly annoying! Thank you for bringing this topic to light. I admit that I am far less likely to patronize a business if this is an issue!

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