And the Bad Grammar Oscar goes to…Apostrophe Abuse

Last week, I was standing in a queue in a coffee shop behind a lady with her hair tied in a bun. On the back of her neck, she had a tattoo. So far, so dull.

The tattoo read: ‘Find strength when word’s fail’.

How apt.

I’d love to say the sentiment stood out for me. But the hideous apostrophe misuse was permanent.

Why on earth am I writing about this? This mistake is obvious. Isn’t it? Seemingly not, as the tattoo artist failed to notice, as did the recipient of the permanent ink. It’s a basic, school-taught rule. But adding an apostrophe when it isn’t needed is a very common mistake.

Verat Copywriting Apostrophes Blog

What’s the rule?

It’s really simple. An apostrophe before ‘s’ indicates ownership, or abbreviation.

For example: ‘it was John’s book.’ (Possession of a noun: the book.)
‘What’s your opinion?’ (Omission to indicate the words ‘what is’.)

As the English Language is a fickle beast, there are obvious exceptions. Most notably, personal pronouns have no apostrophes. (Yours, theirs etc. are all apostrophe-free. To avoid confusion with ‘it is’, ‘its’ in possessive form doesn’t use an apostrophe.)

What’s veg got to do with it?

The apostrophe error has become known as a greengrocer’s apostrophe, allegedly due to fruit and vegetable stallholders being repeat offenders (‘apple’s’, anyone?).

Whether that’s fair or not is another debate. But it gives some pretty clear-cut examples we can all get to grips with. Remember: in English, the vast majority of words become plural with the addition of an ‘s’.

Copy-editor grammar greengrocers' apostrophe

I’ve spotted these recently. They’re all hideous. And they’re all wrong.

• Starter’s, Main’s, Desserts’s
• Speed camera’s
• Kid’s Parties
• Mine or your’s?
• Beware of the dog’s!

Oh dear.

The golden rule? Don’t use apostrophes for plurals. (Yes, yes there are awkward plurals on which the jury’s still out. But 99% of the time, use this rule. And stick to it.)



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