The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

21 June 2013

Save the apostrophe!

Did you know there is such a thing as The Apostrophe Protection Society?

There was a furor in England recently when a local council proposed abolishing apostrophes from all public signs.  Agree? Disagree?  Apparently people are very passionate in their position on this humble mark of punctuation.

I'm sure we can all think of examples of mistaken uses of the apostrophe, usually to humorous effect. Here is one such:
Resident's refuse to be put in bins.
Residents refuse to be put in bins.


Inappropriate apostrophes are ubiquitous as evidenced on my Facebook newsfeed last weekend:
Happy Fathers Day to all you dad's out there.

There is an argument that apostrophes can add confusion, and as there are already ambiguities in the English language - read (present), read (past), red  - as one example, they are unnecessary.  Context provides the clue as to which word is meant in each instance and therefor punctuation is not necessary.

While I agree with that point, I do also believe that any helps to clarity are useful and valuable.

Another argument for the abolition of the apostrophe is that the apostrophe itself can be confusing - "The boy's photograph was framed." Does that refer to a photo of the boy? A picture the boy owns?

The phrase is ambiguous with or without the punctuation, so again, why not use every help to clarity we have?

It may be that we are drifting toward an ever more simplified system of spelling and punctuation (I shudder every time I see 'drive thru', 'late nite', 'e-z fill-in-the-blank'). I can admit (albeit reluctantly) that is not entirely a negative move. All the same, I would say to all those people who argue we are in an age of the text message: content is as important as speed.

What goes next, once the apostrophe has been jettisoned? The coma? (The Oxford coma is already in jeopardy. That's the one that comes before'and' in a series of comas) Ellipses, braces, semicolons, full stops?  No, I say! Keep 'em all, abuse them if you must, misuse them if you can't help yourself, but by golly, Save the Apostrophe!


  1. At the U. S. Government agency I work for, our standard is to use the Oxford comma, so if anyone tries to remove it we may have to call in an air strike.

    On a serious side, removing apostrophes from the language would require the recoding of text reader software to handle contractions that would spell other words without them (We'll/ well - i'll/ill).

    And imagine reading Virginia Woolf without semicolons.

    Don't even get me started on ellipses...

  2. I commend you for the Oxfordian coma!
    As for text readers, just imagine, technology might be what saves the very thing technology seems to have sent to its death.
    No, I can't imagine reading Virginia Woolf.
    Don't you love the ellipses? I find them charming and perfectly in keeping with my own thought patterns...
    sorry, where was I?

  3. Apostrophes, oh please!...
    and commas too; save these!...
    But I could not write, nor
    think, nor please...
    without my faithful ee-lip-sees......

  4. That's lovely, Nancy.

    Have you heard Victor Borge do his punctuation sketch? Brilliant!

  5. As someone who works with typesetting, my biggest peeve is the use of the foot mark ' over the true apostrophe ’.

    But personally, as for my favourite punctuation, I am addicted to the em dash.

  6. Miss Fish, we will get you to design and produce our banners and posters when we take to the streets.

    Preserve our punctuation!