Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whither the apostrophe, kids?

So, in my large classes I don't have them turn in much writing - I simply can't grade all of it and maintain sanity and a research agenda. But, in addition to exams, I have them turn in a couple of specific 1-2 page writing exercises - it's not a formal paper per se, but it is some kind of synthesis and discussion of the material. For the most part they were good in my undergrad class - a lot of them really tried and made the assignment something interesting.

However, there's a disturbing trend that I've noticed over the past couple of years and I want to know if it's spreading: the inability to use apostrophes to make possessives!

This goes way beyond the classic "its/it's" problems and they're not seeming to have problems with conjunctions (which I ask them to avoid using in papers, but I choose my battles and that's not one of them for this semester). What this is is things like: "The Reeves Tale", "the husbands anger at the adultery", etc. They're not under the assumption that there's more than one Reeve or Miller - they just don't conceive of the need to use an apostrophe to make possessives.

Wtf? Is this something they're just not teaching kids anymore? Is this skill slipping through the cracks? What I'm talking about is a systemic problem that plagues not only average but above average students and I've only seen it in the last 2-3 years (even at different schools).

This is my diagnosis: text messaging - J'accuse! What say you?

7 comments:

What Now? said...

Oh, it's still being taught -- as a HS teacher, I can now attest to these things! -- but of course "being taught" and "being learned" are different things. I have some really bright students who simply can't seem to grasp the necessity of using punctuation in possessives. I wonder if this punctuation mark is simply dropping out of the language.

heu mihi said...

Oh, yes. My intensive introduction to freshman comp (8 sections of comp in 2 years) hasn't numbed me to the horror of (among many, many other things) the inability to use apostrophes correctly.

I have no idea what the problem is, but it's not just at your school. I also see weird things like "familys" for "families"--the hell? And don't even ask this subset of students about the plural possessive of "family"; they're liable to just drop in a different word altogether. I even address these issues in class, to no avail (and I hate to do it, because the students who know how to do possessives think I'm being condescending and the ones who don't don't get it anyway). I'm still shocked at the number of mechanical problems that I consistently run into--to say nothing of the straight-up don't-understand-complete-sentences problems. But after spending the better part of last semester patiently trying to get one of my worst students to understand the difference between "there" and "their"--an effort that was not successful, by the way; the best he did was to stop using "there" in every case and to simply start scattering different spellings of the word at random throughout his paper--I've almost adjusted to our dystopian present.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

My theory? They've been beaten on so many times for incorrectly using apostrophes to form plurals ("The reeve's all decided to go out for some ale") that they've decided that apostrophes should never, ever be used.

Belle said...

'Round here, we have the opposite problem. Apostrophes abound! They are scattered across billboards, posters, store fronts with wild abandon. In totally inappropriate places of course - since they are not in use chez vous, they find a refuge here. So of course, my students have no clue how to put these poor refugees to work. They drop them here and there in the hope that some one won't notice and inadvertently provide foster care.

Contemporary Troubadour said...

I see both: possessives without apostrophes, plurals with them. It pains me. I agree with the text messaging diagnosis, too.

Good Enough Woman said...

It's good to know that I'm not alone out here in the world of apostrophe confusion and abuse. I think the problem is not only the texting, but also other kinds of informal writing. Whether it be e-mail, Facebook, blogs, or whatever, these types of writing do not require the formalities of proper punctuation (or even complete sentences), and thus students not only write informally without these conventions, but they end up, in turn, reading a lot of informal writing. If most of my reading was done on Facebook, for example, i would right like this and i wouldnt use any puncution at all accept for exclam pts and dots bcuz why bother . . . lol!

tanewha said...

Out here in the real world I'm just so happy that so many kids are creating so much content, compared to previous generations, that a shift in the rules of punctuation is a small price to pay.