Apostrophes – It’s Easy When You Know How

Some would say that if we didn’t have to worry about apostrophes, writing would be a lot easier. For me, it would take away all the pleasure of writing because I personally love the challenge of using apostrophes to make sense of what I am trying to convey to the reader.

I was surprised to receive an email the other day from a mother whose daughter’s English homework had been “corrected” incorrectly by her school teacher. The mother wrote to confirm that what her daughter had written was, in fact, correct. The daughter had written “the dog gave the ball to its owner” but the teacher had corrected it to “the dog gave the ball to its owner”. What the professor’s phrase says is: “the dog gave the ball to its owner”, which is clearly nonsense. The only time you should insert an apostrophe in the word “your” is when it is short for “is” or “has.” Frankly, I was horrified that an English teacher had made such a mistake. The daughter’s version, “the dog gave the ball to his owner” is correct because the word “his” (without apostrophe) is the equivalent of “his, her, our, my, your, his” – “his” is the version that means belonging to, or being associated with, a thing or person / animal of undetermined gender.

Anyone, even an English teacher, could be forgiven for making a one-time mistake, but apparently this wasn’t the only correction he made. The daughter had also written, “buy your cucumbers and lettuces here”, which the teacher had corrected, “buy your cucumbers and lettuces here”. The teacher had inserted apostrophes in what are plural nouns, that is, “cucumbers and lettuces”, which the daughter had spelled correctly. Plurals must not have apostrophes. Inserting an apostrophe in words like “tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce” is known, though perhaps disrespectfully, as the greengrocer’s apostrophe. I suspect we’ve all seen “tomatoes and potatoes” outside a greengrocery store.

It is true that there is an exception to this rule which is when you write, for example, “Beware of p’s and q’s”. If you had to write “Be careful with your Ps and Qs”, you would not need to insert apostrophes; They are only needed in the previous version to clarify the meaning because without them it would read “Be careful with your ps and qs”, which would be confusing for the reader.

I must say that when I read this mother’s email, it made me fear for the education of our children, but fortunately there are those who are willing to question so-called experts.

For much more help on the rules of apostrophes and how to use apostrophes correctly, click here – Apostrophes.

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