Grumpy Grammar Guy begs you: Stop abusing apostrophes

Burt's Eye View

As a recovering copy editor, few things get my goat as much as the misplaced apostrophe.

Walk down any street in the U.S. of A. and you’re likely to see signs like these:

• Professional Sign’s & Lettering

• Fried Oreo’s

• Valentine gift idea’s

• Radiator Cover’s Made to Measure

• Please remove shoe’s

These all are actual signs hanging outside real businesses. Which display proper use of an apostrophe?


It was for atrocities like these that in 2001, retired journalist John Richards founded the Apostrophe Protection Society. Last month, he gave up. “We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!,” Richards wrote.

It’d’ve been awesome if he could have convinced the world that AN APOSTROPHE DOESN’T MAKE A WORD PLURAL!

Sorry. I get a bit grouchy over that point. Call me Grumpy Grammar Guy.

Once when I launched into an apostrophe tirade, my victim took his document and said, “I’m going to put a lot of apostrophes in the margins. You place them where you want them.”

Turn my frown upside down. An apostrophe shows either possession — kitty’s yarn (one cat) or kitties’ yarn (more than one cat) — or it stands in for missing letters, such as in a contraction — “it is” becomes “it’s.”

I flipped through a calendar I considered buying and found Nov. 11 marked as “Veteran’s Day.”

“Which veteran owns that day? How did he or she get it? Did the veteran buy it?”

The vendor looked perplexed. “I, uh… Huh?”

“See, there’s an apostophe in front of the ‘S.’ That means a single veteran has possession of that day.”

“Look, man, I just sell calendars,” the vendor said, slowly backing away. “I don’t know nothin’ about phonics.”

It’s not phonics, it’s basic grammar.

You wouldn’t believe how many mailboxes I’ve wanted to splash with Wite-Out: “The Smith’s,” “The Young’s,” “The Wentworth’s.” It hurts to see that innocent little apostrophe ripped out of its lovely corral at the Punctuation Ranch and jammed into a word where it clearly doesn’t belong.

Proper punctuation saves lives. Consider “Let’s eat Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma.” Grandma’s voting for the second one, because if it’s the first one, it must be the Big Bad Wolf.

The apostrophe also is a life-saver. If someone indicates, “You’re dinner,” run. That person probably already ate Grandma. “You’re dinner” and “Your dinner” — both versions will get you to the table, but only one puts the knife and fork in your hands.

A newspaper — not this one — ran a correction to say that a tweet quoted in a story should have been “Love Trumps Hate,” not “Love Trump’s Hate.” That little misplaced apostrophe wildly changes the meaning of the sentence.

Grumpy Grammar Guy implores you, please stop abusing apostrophes. Mr. Richards, now more than ever we need the Apostrophe Protection Society. Our very lives are at stake. Its true.

I mean, IT’S true. Stupid renegade apostrophes. They make me grumpy.

— Point out all of Grumpy Grammar Guy’s mistakes in this column at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.


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