Friday, March 20, 2009

PUGS Pointers #16: Apostrophes can be Illusive

PUGS* Pointers
(*Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling)
by Kathy Ide

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (“PUGS”).


Apostrophes for Years, CMS #9.34 and CWMS p. 51 and AP p. 328
If years are abbreviated to two numerals, they should be preceded by an apostrophe.
Example: Kimberly graduated with the class of ’82.

NOTE: If you’re using “curly quotes,” make sure the apostrophes (and single quotation marks) are curled in the right direction.
’82, not ‘82
’tis, not ‘tis


elusive (adjective) means difficult to grasp, isolate, or identify.
“Her novel contained so many elusive concepts I had difficulty following the plot.”
“The elusive criminal led the search party further into the woods.”

illusive (adjective) means based on or producing illusion; deceptive.
“The murderer’s illusive clues took the detective on several wild goose chases.”

Just remember: elusive is the adjective form of the verb elude (meaning avoid, escape).
illusive is the adjective form of illusion (meaning deceiving, misleading).


Generations of English teachers have taught students certain rules that are either personal preferences or rules that have changed over time. For example:

Never split an infinitive. (See CMS 5.160.)
An infinitive is the to form of a verb: to go, to holler, to whisper, to study. Splitting an infinitive means to put some word (usually an adverb) between the to and the verb: to quickly go, to loudly holler, to quietly whisper, to avidly study.

Rule of thumb: If it’s just as easy to word something in a way that avoids splitting an infinitive, do so—if for no better reason than because some readers, editors, and proofreaders will fault you if you don’t. However, if doing so interrupts the flow, or makes comprehension difficult, go ahead and split that infinitive.


Whenever two spellings are given in the dictionary, the first one listed is almost always the preferred spelling. For example:

amid (not amidst)
among (not amongst)
backward (not backwards)
forward (not forwards)
gray (not grey)
till (not ’til )
toward (not towards)


PUGS Pointers are based on the current industry-standard references in the United States.

For books:
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition, © 2003)
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, © 2003)

For articles:
The Associated Press Stylebook (© 2004)
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (© 2002)

Many publishing houses have their own in-house style guides that may differ in some aspects from the standard references. However, unless you’re writing exclusively for one particular publisher, it’s best to follow the standard references and let the in-house proofreaders adjust to house style.

For more PUGS Pointers, see Kathy Ide’s Web site. Or get her book Polishing the PUGS, available here.


Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network and the Christian Editor Network. To find out more, please visit Kathy's Web site.

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