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INFOGRAPHIC: Apostrophes and their uses

10 Responses to INFOGRAPHIC: Apostrophes and their uses

  • Sean Tembrooke
    August 27, 2014

    Hmm. Not sure I agree with number three Andy.

    I can see the rationale, but you’re implying all words ending in vowels take an apostrophe in plural form. And that ain’t right. Or, ultimately, less confusing.

    In this case, surely it’s better to reword? “The word ‘hi’ was uttered how many times?”

    • Andy Maslen
      August 27, 2014

      Hi Sean, thanks for the comment. I see what you mean, but to be picky, I am not implying that although you are inferring it. I am suggesting that where there might be confusion (which happens from time to time) an apostrophe avoids it.

      I wouldn’t, for example, change apostrophes to apostrophe’s, even though it ends in a vowel.

      Your point about rewriting is well made and is always a careful writer’s best choice.

      • Sean Tembrooke
        October 10, 2014

        I see what you’re saying. But we’re left with a situation where some copywriters break the rules just because they know the rules.

        And that doesn’t help anyone. What about the people who don’t know the rules? Can they be expected to differentiate between grammar’s rights and wrongs and a copywriter’s whims? How will they learn if even the pros aren’t consistent?

        Fact is, an apostrophe shouldn’t be used to indicate a plural. Ever. Using one to avoid confusion is lazy and unnecessary. It’s (part of) our job to work around problems like that.

        I know I might seem militant about this, but copywriters are pretty quick to leap on other people’s wonky grammar when they spot it. Could it be we’re actually part of the problem?

        • Andy Maslen
          October 11, 2014

          I can see what you mean Sean, but it’s not our job to teach grammar. It’s our job to shift merchandise.

          Plenty of writers (not just copywriters) have broken the rules of English grammar on purpose.

          Incidentally, one should always be extremely careful when laying the law down about what is a ‘fact’ in English.

          The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar says that using the apostrophe to indicate plurals is “usually acceptable with the less usual plurals of letters and dates eg p’s and q’s”.

  • Alison Peck
    October 9, 2014

    I didn’t read 3 as “ending in vowels” but “words that aren’t nouns and therefore don’t have ‘real’ plurals”… We want to count the me’s and you’s in the sentence (or perhaps we should say “instances of ‘me’ and ‘you’ in the sentence”). We may also want to separate the a’s from the b’s, c’s and d’s (assuming we’ve gone around a room telling people they are an ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ or ‘d’ for some game). It would get confusing – and look very odd – to have as, bs, cs and ds.

    The one I scratch my head over every time is a use of verbs as nouns – the ubiquitous list of “Do’s and Don’ts”. I tend to automatically write it as I have here because “Dos and Don’ts” looks as wrong as “Do’s and Don’t’s” (and obviously “Does and Don’ts” doesn’t help much either!) even though both of the alternatives are more consistent than my ‘looks right’ version. What would you do?

  • Julie
    October 9, 2014

    Hi Andy,
    Would you mind if I printed this guide out and put it around the school I work in? Worryingly, teachers, as well as students, get these apostrophes wrong.
    Many thanks,
    Julie

  • Andy Maslen
    October 9, 2014

    Hi Alison, I agree with you. And as for Do’s and Don’ts, ohmigosh, why did we ever come up with that phrase?!

    At first sight Do’s and Don’ts seems to work because in the Do’s, the apostrophe avoids the sense that we are talking about a computer operating system (however brief) while in the Don’ts there is no such confusion, thanks to the terminal ‘t’.

    The trouble is, to vary the use of the apostrophe from confusion-avoidance to contraction-indication in one short phrase seems to invite the unwary to draw the wrong conclusions as to its correct use.

    I tend to go with DOs and DON’Ts. This, too, has its faults. Perhaps it’s time to can it altogether and replace with: Do this but don’t do this.

  • Andy Maslen
    October 9, 2014

    Julie, I would be DELIGHTED! I should probably offer it to my children’s schools too as they are equally incapable of punctuating properly.

  • June
    October 10, 2014

    Hi Andy,

    I love this infographic. Apostrophes are a nightmare to get right. Is it possible to share it on my blog please? I’m sure my readers would benefit.

    Have a great day.

  • Andy Maslen
    October 10, 2014

    Hi June,

    Glad you like it. Share away!

    Andy

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