Friday, 27 March 2015

The maligned and misunderstood apostrophe

Hi there!

I had a bit of a rant on facebook a while ago - not something I usually do because I want people to enjoy my posts. I certainly don't want to come across as some stick-wielding school marm.

However, I was prompted to deliver my rant because of an item I saw on a restaurant menu.

Stuart and I were at a sweet little eating place near our home on the Mornington Peninsula. This place had gone to great lengths to have gorgeous menus written up and printed on lovely paper. Clearly, they had invested quite a bit of time and expense to produce these, so imagine my horror when right there - in front of me in bold, glaring letters was the word, egg's.

That's right, egg's, complete with apostrophe.

Okay, so I'm probably a bit pickier than most, but if you were spending hard-earned money and engaging professional designers and printers, why wouldn't you spend that little bit more to make sure it was spelled correctly?

So, I'll probably insult a number of people with what I'm about to say, but in my experience (almost 30 years in the biz) there are plenty of marketing, advertising and printing people who think they're expert with English grammar and punctuation, but the truth is - big generalisation coming - they're not!

I mentioned in a previous post that school teachers here in Australia are coming under fire for their poor literacy skills, so it's not surprising that the new generation of professional people coming through the ranks, suffer from what we call unconscious incompetance.

That's not an insult, by the way. It's a legitimate term, recognised by the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA). It means, simply, that you don't know what you don't know.

Righto, here we are, for the benefit of those who think they know but don't (unconscious incompetence), or for those who don't know and know they don't know (conscious incompetence), here are the rules for using apostrophes.

Apostrophes are used in two instances ONLY!

1. Contractions. An apostrophe is used to show missing letters. For example, do not becomes don't.
A big peeve of mine is when people write your when they mean you are. In this instance, it should be written as you're - using an apostrophe to show the contraction of the two words.

2. Ownership. Bill's book. Mary's house. The apostrophe shows that the book belongs to Bill and the house belongs to Mary. That's it - simple!

One exception to this rule is in the instance of it is. People often find this one confusing.

Alright, this is it - you ready? It's with the apostrophe refers to the contraction only. It means it is.

To show ownership you do not use the apostrophe. For example, the dog and its ball. In this example, its shows the dog owns the ball, and this, to my knowledge, is the only time in the English language that we don't use the apostrophe to denote ownership.

You DO NOT use apostrophes to make a word plural! Oh boy, this one really fires me up!

Eggs as on that menu is the plural of egg. Note - there's no apostrophe!
Tomatoes is the plural of tomato. Note the 'E' and no apostrophe!
Same with potatoes.
Pizza is an Italian word. Made plural - for purists - it is pizze. You could probably get away with writing it as pizzas on an English menu, but definitely NOT pizza's. Aaaargh!!!

So there you go, that's today's Apostrophes 101 class.

Seriously, though, I am very worried about the direction our language and literacy skills are going. I can't speak for other countries but here in Australia, I believe we have a developing problem.

Until next week, check out Perfect English Grammar and make it a mission to learn something new or refresh your skills.

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