Why use apostrophes?

The reason I started the Apostrophe Protection Society

by John Richards

When apostrophes are misused it is often younger people who are at fault.   "Why bother with apostrophes, you know what I mean" is a common phrase they use when challenged. I started the Apostrophe Protection Society in an attempt to do away with that attitude.

So why use apostrophes? The apostrophe is vital in written communication   Just consider this notice outside a block of flats - "Residents refuse to be put in bins"    Place an apostrophe after "residents" and the meaning changes at once.    "I'm collecting my brothers books" - - but how many brothers.?   An apostrophe in the right place can tell one that one brother or more than one brother is meant.

Who is to blame?

Education is a problem that is often raised with me. Teachers tell me that every effort is made to teach the correct use, but some schoolchildren tell me that they were never taught.   It is surely not up to the school or the teacher to decide what is correct English and what is not.    

I am asked why use apostrophes?

More than once I have been asked why I bother about apostrophes, but I bother because it is a symptom of the slide downwards of the language.   I am seeing, in respectable newspapers, things like "I was stood next to him" and "I met with him"  How can one meet "without" him?

The slippery slope.

There is also another important point about why use apostrophes.  If apostrophes are not used, why use full stops or commas or semi-colons?  Indeed, I notice that already semi-colons are beginning to disappear.   English language can be fine and elegant when properly used. Our website has a grammar section as well because we consider that grammar, as a whole, is important; not only apostrophes need to be protected.

However, one encouraging sign is that I have received more than one email from teenagers who support me and who criticise newspapers and web sites which contain incorrect apostrophes.    There is still hope when some of the younger generation are protecting apostrophes.

The rules on the use of apostrophes

The rules concerning the use of apostrophes in written English are very simple:

 1. They are used to denote a missing letter or letters, for example:

I can't instead of I cannot

I don't instead of I do not

it's instead of it is or it has


2. They are used to denote possession, for example:

the dog's bone (the bone belongs to that dog)

the company's logo (the logo belongs to that company)

Jones's bakery (but Joneses' bakery if owned by more than one Jones)

This applies to all nouns, so the correct versions are Jesus's disciples, Keats's poems and so on. 

Please note that “Its”, which is usually used as a possessive adjective (like “our”, “his” etc), does not take an apostrophe:      

the dog ate its bone and we ate our dinner. ... however, if there are two or more dogs, companies or Joneses in our example, the apostrophe comes after the 's':

the dogs' bones; the companies' logos; Joneses' bakeries.

3. Apostrophes are NEVER ever used to denote plurals!  

Common examples of such abuse (all seen in real life!) are:

Banana's for sale which of course should read Bananas for sale

Menu's printed to order which should read Menus printed to order

MOT's at this garage which should read MOTs at this garage

1000's of bargains here! which should read 1000s of bargains here!

New CD's just in! which should read New CDs just in!

Buy your Xmas tree's here! which should read Buy your Xmas trees here!

Note: Special care must be taken over the use of “your” and “you're” as they sound the same but are used quite differently:

your is possessive as in this is your pen

you're is short for “you are” as in you're coming over to my house

John Richards, Chairman, The Apostrophe Preservation Society

For more information link to www.apostrophe.org.uk

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