If only we didn’t have to bother with apostrophes, writing would be so much easier, some would say. For me, it would take all the enjoyment out of writing because I personally love the challenge of using apostrophes to make sense of what I’m trying to convey to the reader.
I was shocked to receive an email the other day from a mother whose daughter’s English homework had been incorrectly ‘corrected’ by her school teacher. The mother wrote to me for confirmation that what her daughter had written was, in fact, correct. The daughter had written, “the dog gave its owner the ball” but the teacher had corrected it to, “the dog gave it’s owner the ball”. What the teacher’s sentence is saying is: “the dog gave it is owner the ball”, which is clearly nonsense. The only time you should insert an apostrophe into the word “its” is when it is short for “it is” or “it has”. Quite frankly I was appalled that a teacher of English had made such a mistake. The daughter’s version, “the dog gave its owner the ball” is correct because the word “its” (without an apostrophe) is the equivalent of “his, her, our, my, your, their” – “its” is the version that means belonging to, or associated with, a thing or person/animal of indeterminate gender.
Anyone, even a teacher of English, could be forgiven for making a mistake as a one-off, but apparently this wasn’t the only correction he had made. The daughter had also written, “buy your cucumbers and lettuces here”, which the teacher had corrected to, “buy your cucumber’s and lettuce’s here”. The teacher had inserted apostrophes into what are straightforward plural nouns ie, “cucumbers and lettuces”, which the daughter had written correctly. Plurals should not have apostrophes. Inserting an apostrophe into words such as “tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and lettuces” is known, albeit perhaps disrespectfully, as the Greengrocer’s Apostrophe. I suspect we’ve all seen “tomatoe’s and potatoe’s” outside a Greengrocer’s shop.
There is, admittedly, one exception to this rule which is when you are writing for instance, “Mind your p’s and q’s”. If you were to write, “Mind your Ps and Qs”, you would not need to insert apostrophes – they are only necessary in the previous version to clarify the meaning because without them it would read, “Mind 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 our children’s education, but thankfully there are those out there who are willing to question the so-called experts.
For lots more help on apostrophe rules and how to use apostrophes correctly, click here – Apostrophes.