The Grammar Belle

Spiffing y'all up, one typo at a time

What’s the problem with the “f” word? (I can’t do italics in the title. Grrr.)

Hey, y’all.

No, not THAT f word. Although, if you came here solely for that reason, stick around. You and I could be friends. Today, I need to talk to y’all about THIS f word:
There’s something about this time of year that makes well-educated folks—people who learned how make the plurals of “bell” and “stocking” and “berry” in first grade—completely lose their minds. Perhaps it’s too much egg nog (I can relate). Or too much stress.

I am just wondering why in the name of the sweet baby Jesus y’all keep writing things like:
The elf’s are coming by today to deliver gifts.
The elfs at the mall are so cute in their striped stockings.
I bet the elfes at the North Pole are busy these days.

Now think back long, long ago to a time when you learned what to do when talking about more than one of these things that ends in an f.

Are you there?

Do you remember what to do? Thank goodness.

My Facebook feed has been littered with hundreds of photos of naughty “elfs on the shelf,” “elf’s on the shelf,” “elf on the shelves,” and (my personal favorite) “elf on the shelf’s.” And that reminds me of yet another topic to cover with y’all: how to make plurals of compound nouns.

1 mother-in-law + 1 mother-in-law = 2 mothers-in-law
(and a stressful evening)

When making a compound noun plural, the key is to focus on the most important word in the phrase. If I were to change “mother” to “father,” that would be a life-altering move. If I were to delete “in law,” she’d still be the charming and delightful lady she started as. That tells me the most important word is “mother” and THAT’s the one that I make plural. Does that make sense?

Back to the creepy/maddening elves who sit on shelves . . . using our little exercise above, you should conclude that “elf” is the key word. If your home is lucky (crazy) enough to have more than one, then you have multiple “elves on the shelf.” (Yes, it’s awkward with the word “the” in it. But I didn’t give those critters their name. I’m just trying to give us a little consistency ’round these parts. You could, for sanity’s sake, call them “elves on the shelves,” I suppose.)

Josh Hamilton: Slater family elf, one-time MVP, former Texas Ranger (Yes, he's eating a tortilla chip. We were out of saltines.)

Josh Hamilton: Slater family elf, one-time MVP, former Texas Ranger (Yes, he’s eating a tortilla chip. We were out of saltines.)

That’s enough spelling for one morning. Feel free to get back to Facebook so you can go on and on about your elves and all their wonderful adventures. Just know that I don’t have enough room in my head for elfin merriment, given it’s full of obscure grammar facts and future blog topics. Don’t judge, y’all.

3 comments on “What’s the problem with the “f” word? (I can’t do italics in the title. Grrr.)

  1. Phil Anderson
    December 14, 2012

    BUT: “mother-in-laws” is also correct. Has to be because mine had that many rules.

  2. outlawmama
    December 14, 2012

    Finally, a grammar mistake I hardly ever make. I know elves when I see ’em.

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This entry was posted on December 14, 2012 by in Adult Beverages, Don't Make Me Beg, Spelling.

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