April 20th, 2005
A couple days or a couple of days? / its and it's
by Barbara Wallraff
Lauri Christianson, of Beverly Hills, Mich., writes: “In recent years columnists in my newspaper have been leaving out the word ‘of’ after the word ‘couple.’ This morning I read an article by a New York Times journalist who did the same thing, writing ‘for a couple days.’ Other examples include ‘have a couple cups’ and ‘after a couple weeks.’ What do you think of this usage?”
Dear Lauri: Well, it’s not what the Associated Press Stylebook and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage say to do. The AP Stylebook says: “The ‘of’ is necessary. Never use ‘a couple tomatoes’ or a similar phrase.” The Times Manual agrees, though as you might imagine, it gives a fancier example: “‘a couple of pomegranates,’ never ‘a couple pomegranates.’”
John Fett, of Madison, Wis., writes: “I was surprised by your recent answer that there is no logical reason for leaving the apostrophe out of the possessive ‘its.’ Isn’t the reason to avoid confusing it with the contraction ‘it’s’?”
Dear John: I surprised a lot of people with that answer. Yes, that is the reason there’s no apostrophe in the possessive “its.” But is it logical? Printers and grammarians, instead of deciding to leave the apostrophe out of most possessive pronouns (“yours,” “ours,” “his,” “hers” and “theirs” as well as “its”), could just as well have left it out of the contraction “it’s” (meaning “it is” or “it has”). Then we could have punctuated “the book’s pages” and “its pages” the same way.
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