Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Thursday 26 August 2010

Breeding Apostrophes.

When Mrs R was at primary school, where she shared her classroom with various species of literate dinosaurs, she was taught about apostrophes. It doesn't seem to happen these days, ever, otherwise how can so many adults splatter their writings with random apostrophes?

Take a look for yourself. Once you've spotted one of these creatures in the wrong place you'll notice even more - they seem to be secretly breeding. Incorrect use is no longer restricted to the Greengrocer and his/her "sacks of potatoe's"* or "Christmas Tree's for sale"* (suggesting that there is an unknown something belonging to Christmas Tree for sale).

A few bloggers do it, but not very many of those in Mrs R's blogroll, so Mrs R doubts this post will be of interest to any who also link to her site. She wonders if bloggers have better grammatical knowledge than the 'interested/disgusted/annoyed of Britain' commenters in newspapers who seem, these days, to be adding apostrophes to words - just because there's an 's' at the end.

Anyhow, if anybody who happens to be reading this post wants to learn how to use apostrophes properly there are sites which can help. Here are a few :-

The Apostrophe Protection Society.
Apostrophes – how to use them.
How to use an Apostrophe.
The correct use of the apostrophe.

Having digested and understood all that difficult stuff, and having had a lie down, perhaps some practice might be a good idea? Take a look at these :-

BBC Skillwise

From Bristol (University?)
Using the apostrophe #1
Using the apostrophe #2.
Who's or Whose?
It's or Its?

From "Teaching and Learning Resources"
Using apostrophes to spell shortened forms of words
Using the apostrophe to show ownership 1
Using the apostrophe to show ownership 2
Using the apostrophe to show ownership 3
It's or its?

It seems that thirteen years in full time education doesn't allow enough time to learn about such tricky little things as apostrophes, plurals and so on, so maybe it's time for the newspapers to teach their readers some basic grammar?

Should be :-
"sacks of potatoes"
"Christmas Trees for sale."


Catosays said...

Apart from apostrophes, the one thing which really annoys me is the use of the 'of' instead of 'have' in 'I could of done that'. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh

formertory said...

Normally quite happy and confident with apostrophes, I was writing a paper earlier today and referred to an event "in three years time". I know it's not "three year's time", of course.

But time isn't a possession; it's abstract. It doesn't belong to the years in question. Do I then mean "in three years time" or "in three years' time"?

Try as I might I can't find a definitive answer to that one. I even ordered "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" from Amazon earlier today as a result. Any thoughts?

I went for the no-apostrophe version in the end, secure in the knowledge that I'm the only person here sad enough to even wonder whether it's correct :-) .

opsimath said...

One of my favourites was:

New Seasons Potato's, seen, strangely enough, at a greengrocery.

Well, if they aren't allowed to do it, when it bears their name, who is?

Anonymous said...

formertory try this
then this
and this

Macheath said...

ft, time is abstract; what, then, of the grammatical rules applied in Shakespeare's time?

Mrs R, Microsoft Word frequently fails to correct faulty apostrophes (or, as they are known in many staffrooms, 'catastrophes') and occasionally even inserts them - it's particularly confused about its 'it's' and 'its', if you see what I mean. Since computers are regarded by many as infallible, users are happy to accept the machine's version, hence the proliferation you've noticed.

Have a look at some labels next time you're shopping and you'll find plenty of examples by household names - like this from Johnson&Johnson; 'this bubble bath with it's lavender perfume...'

Anonymous said...

Should be :-
"sacks of potatoes"
"Christmas Trees for sale."

Should you capitalise Trees?

Chuckles said...

I seem to remember that the former colonies have a different set of rules for their nervous tics, which probably doesn't help matters much. MS Word and all that.

JuliaM said...

"It doesn't seem to happen these days, ever, otherwise how can so many adults splatter their writings with random apostrophes?"

Oh, tell me about it! I do a lot of proof reading for colleagues, checking their work (because you always miss your own usual typo - mine is 'that' for 'than').

Out of an office of 10, I think only 1 can be relied upon to get this right. Everyone else seems to scatter them about randomly, like confetti...

JuliaM said...

And to pick up on the point Catosays raised, 'off of' is a particular bug-bear of mine.

And a recent email from our senior management team contained not one, but two examples! AAAARRRGHH!

Catosays said...

Oooooh, I forgot the dimwits who don't know the difference between 'they're' and 'there'.

Even more aaaaaaaaaaargh!!

Anonymous said...

I'm hopeless with this.

For instance, when writing about a EU policy do I write the EUs policy or the EU's policy.

It's an acronym and their is an element of ownership.

Anonymous said...

"For instance, when writing about a EU policy do I write the EUs policy or the EU's policy."
EU's policy is correct.

"It's an acronym and their is an element of ownership. "
The word is there.

Their means belonging to them.