This morning, when I returned an audio book to the local Listeners’ Library, the librarian remarked that I had been very quick about returning it. I replied, “Nowadays, with modern technology, people can do just about anything – except put an apostrophe in the right place.”
Her prolonged burst of laughter told me that I had said something pertinent.
The sign below is proudly displayed at a hairdressing establishment near her shop. What’s remarkable about it is that somebody has paid good money for a sign where every single apostrophe is wrongly used. And where there should be one, there is none.
Right at the top of the sign, behind the grill, one can see the words: U ‘n I. But the idiot signwriter has used the wrong version of the apostrophe. He should have used one that looks like a 9, not one that looks like a 6.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the sign’s MANICURE’S and PEDICURE’S don’t need apostrophes. And that GENTLEMENS needs one (before the S if you are a bit stupid, and really do need my help).
Apostrophes are not that difficult. But most people don’t know or don’t care where they should go. They sort of sprinkle them about at random, letting them fall where they may. Here is a brief but full exposition of how to use them.
A very entertaining lesson on the subject is contained in the first 67 pages of Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.
And here are some do’s and don’ts from me (incidentally, my spellchecker put a red line under do’s, don’ts and the word spellchecker, which it thinks should be two words):
- Plurals such as memos, CDs and 1800s don’t need apostrophes. But on rare occasions an apostrophe can be inserted to promote greater clarity, such as with do’s, to prevent confusing it with DOS (disk operating system);
- Apostrophes should be used to indicate possession eg, Men’s and ladies’ fashions. Just make sure you put them in the right place (before the s, for singular words, and generally after the s for plural possessions): one boy’s hat, but two boys’ hats;
- The other main use for the apostrophe is to indicate that a letter has been left out of a word, or that two words have been joined together and contracted at the same time: that’s not too difficult, I’m sure you’ll agree. It really isn’t.
- Nothing causes more confusion than the word its. The rule here is that the only time you use it’s is when it is a contraction of it is or it has (the rest of the time it’s its all the way, just like ours and yours).
Go thou and sin no more!