Who’s on first?



Who’s on first is probably the most famous Abbott and Costello skit, in which they joke about a baseball game full of people with names that are really confusing (Who, What and I Don’t Know).
But the word
who’s is pretty confusing even without all the silly antics.

The thing is, an apostrophe sometimes works to indicate a contraction (two words combined into one, like doesn’t and aren’t) but most of the time it’s possessive, meaning that it shows that something belongs to someone or something. For example, Andy’s shoes means the shoes that belong to Andy. But in who’s, it gets all confusing.

Who’s basically only works as a contraction of who and is, or who and has:

  • The guy who’s coming for dinner is bringing the wine.
  • Amy, who’s been here before, knows we prefer red.

That seems pretty simple, until you remember that there’s also whose. Whose is the possessive of who:

  • The guy whose shoes were left under the table at dinner came back to pick them up later. (they are his shoes)
  • Whose book was published last month? (to whom did the book belong?)

And of course this is confusing because for most other words we use an apostrophe followed by an s to indicate possession. Unless you’re talking about a guy called Who, and we’re talking about something that belongs to him. But that’s unnecessarily confusing if you’re not writing a comedy skit in the 1930s.

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Etc.

The truth is, even many native English speakers mess up their abbreviations, and etcetera is no exception.

We use the abbreviation etc. to mean “and the rest” from the Latin et cetera.

Here are some wrong examples of the use of the word etc.:

  • She loves water sports, fishing, diving etc but doesn’t like to snorkel.
  • The child loves to read, draw, paint, play, etc..
  • Nate excelled at all sports, for example soccer, tennis, basketball, etc.

Here are the rules:

When using the abbreviation etc., we separate it from the last item in the list with a comma.
Etc. always ends with a period.
If etc. is the last word in a sentence, as it often is, do not add a double period.
It is also wrong to use etc. when describing an example (“for example,” or “including”) – once you have stated that the items in the list are a sampling of all the possibilities, it is obvious that there are more items that could be included.

Here are some examples of etc. used correctly:

  • Nizan packed clothes, blankets, toiletries, etc. while Jean was responsible for preparing the food.
  • Danny loved candy, gum, cookies, etc. He ate way too many sweets.
  • Lucy loved green vegetables, including spinach, asparagus, broccoli and artichokes.
    (Note that there was no need to add “etc.” to this list, because “including” already lets the reader know that there are more items in the list.)