Apostrophe or no apostrophe? That is the question…

As I mentioned last week, one of my 2015 resolutions is to read up more on grammar, and I thought I’d share some tips/thoughts every now and again.

I thought I’d start small, with the humble apostrophe.

Why do I still see so many people and companies – both big and small – opting to precede their ‘s’ with an apostrophe when pluralizing? Why are people still struggling with ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? I thought I’d try and clear up a couple of issues with this week’s post.

It’s vs. Its: a simple question.

It helps to remember that ‘it’s’ is just a contraction of ‘it is’. So simply write down a sentence including ‘it’s’, then insert ‘it is’ in its place. If the sentence doesn’t make sense, you should most likely be using ‘its’- or else another word entirely!

Another way to look at it is this: his means ‘belonging to him’ and hers means ‘belonging to her’; therefore its means ‘belonging to it’. For example: She looked up at the building. Its windows were lit up.

Grocer’s apostrophes*


I’m sure a lot of you will have seen this cartoon already, but it’s so good I thought I’d share it again…

Wherever I go, it seems like more and more people are falling in love with the grocer’s apostrophe. I’m pretty sure that when I was at school (not that long ago – and grammar certainly hasn’t changed that much since!) we were taught that to create most plurals you simply add the letter ‘s’ to the end of a word.

You might have seen my tweets before about misuse of these little fellows (Lidl’s ‘Grocers Case Clementine’s’ and the card in Tesco proclaiming ‘Birthday’s Rock’ being cases in point), but they are everywhere. The OxfordWords blog quotes from the Guardian in 2002:

The apostrophe, it sometimes seems, is like an insect – an apostrofly – over the dining table, alighting where it will.

It really rankles every time I see a ‘Brian’s Taxi’s’ cab drive past. Perhaps it’ll bother me less if I imagine one of those pesky apostroflies has come to a sticky end on the side of the cab.

I can kind of understand wanting to use an apostrophe in an abbreviation (such as signs reading Not suitable for HGV’s, garages offering MOT’s or an old Island Records poster mentioning CD’s) or to refer to years (e.g. ‘1980’s); although it’s still incorrect, it doesn’t look as odd. Or perhaps I’ve just become so accustomed to it that it doesn’t stand out as much.

The good old Oxford English Dictionary points out that there are instances where you can use an apostrophe before a plural ‘s’:

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters:

I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.

Find all the p’s in appear.

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers:

Find all the number 7’s.

They then go on to use bold type, which shows how strongly they feel about the matter:

remember that an apostrophe should never be used to form the plural of ordinary nouns, names, abbreviations, or numerical dates.

There are a couple other uses of the apostrophe that I could go into in more detail, but I’d suggest heading over to the OED’s website, where you can find more detail on how to use the apostrophe in the following contexts:

  • possession (as in ‘its’ above, and also when dealing with nouns and proper nouns ending in ‘s’); and
  • to denote omission (as in ‘it’s’, for example).

To end off, let me quote verbatim from a sign I saw recently:

We are looking for a professional person to join our successful team, the hour’s will be 10 or more, the job will include bar work, kitchen work, and to help set up conference’s, and holiday relief in general dutie’s.

The apostroflies have landed again.

Until next week…

* My husband just suggested I insert a grocer’s apostrophe into the title as a joke, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

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