Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Save the Apostrophe

This post is dedicated to our resident apostrophe pedant. I do make the occasional mistake but he is kind enough to point them out off-line.

Back in March this year Mid Devon District Council stood accused of abusing apostrophes. They wanted to ban the things on street signs as they are “confusing”. Even more confusing is the Guardian using a street sign in N15 to illustrate the fact that Tiverton, in Devon, has two of Mid Devon district council's only three roads that currently have apostrophes.

Not everyone approves. A spokesman [sic!] for the Department for Communities and Local Government came out in defence of punctuation saying: "Whilst this is ultimately a matter for the local council, ministers' view is that England's apostrophes should be cherished."

Even as long ago as January 2009 Proof Communications were suggesting that apostrophes were under threat …
Apostrophes are everywhere. Especially in the wrong places. Often called greengrocer’s apostrophes, these are well-meaning but unnecessary apostrophes in plural words, anecdotally favoured by shop owners who feel compelled to add an apostrophe to the end of any word that ends in "s" on their display placards. You know the sort of thing:
  • Banana’s $4.99kg 
  • Fresh carrot’s
  • Todays special’s.
A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald suggested that despite their 300-year existence, apostrophes are under threat. According to the article, the forces behind the move to abolish apostrophes are the "knuckle-dragging illiterates" who staff lower-level government jobs and a clique of modern grammarians who argue that apostrophes "hold children back".
This article follows on with some good advice on where and when to use them.

Personally I blame txtspk and Twitter.

Apostrophe catastrophes – in pictures click


  1. '''''''''O'M'G''''''''''

  2. Most punctuation enables the reader to access the meaning of the written word without hesitation (forget repetiton and digression). The apostrophe enables the reader to distinguish plural from possession e.g.:

    The dog's bowl - one dog, one bowl
    The dogs' bowl - more than one dog,sharing a bowl

    The difference between the plural 's' and the possessive 's' is no longer taught in most schools. Are we arguing that because something is no longer taught, it has no useful purpose?


  3. I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.

    Oscar Wilde

  4. Apostrophe Protection Society at and increase the 1.7 million hits.

  5. Although considered incorrect by many, the use of an apostrophe to denote the marking by some as plural of written items that are not words established in English orthography (as in P's and Q's) is well-established in English Literature. Thus one could write 1980's in place of nineteen-eighties and HGV's in place of Heavy Goods Vehicles ( use of the apostrophe to form plurals of proper words, as in apple’s, banana’s, etc., is universally considered incorrect.)