Why apostrophes matter
The apostrophe is the tiny but vital punctuation mark that makes the difference between knowing your sh*t and knowing you’re sh*t.
That’s why I was sad to spot a news story last week announcing that apostrophe defender John Richards has thrown in the towel. After dedicating nearly two decades of his life desperately trying to protect the apostrophe, which he calls “an endangered species”, the 96-year-old founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society has reluctantly conceded defeat: “The barbarians have won. The battle is lost. It makes me feel sad, with a heavy heart. But it was inevitable – I’ve been preparing for the worst. The apostrophe is dying.”
During his tireless fight, John has pointed out to local businesses where apostrophes are missing, where they should go, where they definitely shouldn’t and where they’re superfluous. (One of the worst examples of this he can recall was a sign advertising “CD’s” in a public library of all places!)
Sign of the times
John was stirred into action in 2001 when he saw a sign for “Coffee’s” outside a new restaurant in Boston and popped in to give them some apostrophe advice. On telling the owner the apostrophe wasn’t needed because the word is a plural, the man just replied, “I think it looks better with an apostrophe”!
Undeterred, John launched his grammatical crusade to eliminate abominations such as “Carvery’s”, “Tattoo’s” and “Open Sunday’s”.
But after 18 years dedicating himself to improving standards of grammar, the former newspaper sub-editor has decided to raise the white flag. Now, a statement on his website states: “Fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language. We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”
How to use them
Once you realise that there are only two possible uses for apostrophes, using them properly is child’s play (see what I did there?). One use is to show ownership of something – a possessive apostrophe – as in “Mel’s blog”. The other purpose is to denote a letter (or letters) left out of a word – the contraction or abbreviation apostrophe. For instance:
“Poor grammar doesn’t help you create a professional image.”
Here, an abbreviation apostrophe has been used to represent a missing word – in this case, ‘not’.
Compare it with this example of a possessive apostrophe:
“Many believe a company’s carelessness over spelling and grammar could reflect a lack of attention to detail in other areas.”
Admittedly, things can get slightly more complicated with words and names that already end in an ‘s’ but for a singular word ending in ‘s’ we just add ‘apostrophe s’ – as in “the boss’s complaint”. And for plurals ending in ‘s’ we need only add an apostrophe after the ‘s’, as in this example:
“Our clients’ marketing communications inspire confidence.”
Last minute reprieve?
It looks like the website John created will be live for some time yet as the surge of interest stirred by his announcement resulted in a 600-fold increase in demand. This meant traffic to the website exceeded the server’s capacity. A notice on the site says it has now been moved to a temporary server with the promise the full site will be back up again in the new year.
There is hope yet! If you have a spelling, grammar or writing query you’d like answered, let me know and I’ll tackle it next time.