Off With Its Head!

by Cherie Tucker

September 2013

They're trying to kill the apostrophe. Again. A recent article in the newspaper declared that apostrophes really are unnecessary in company signs. Apparently they take up too much space. And you know they don't appear in names on maps (think Pikes Peak, even though there was only one Pike).

Well, there is a reason for the little floating comma. Adding an


to a word merely shows that there is more than one of the things the


got attached to. One dog; two dogs. But what if you are writing about the dog's dish? If you leave out that pesky apostrophe, you are saying that the dogs dish. And that could mean trouble, especially if they are dishing about you.

The apostrophe shows ownership, and depending on its placement before or after the


, it even tells the number of owners. One little mark can do all that. But leave it out, and there is confusion. Mistakes are made. Battles are lost.

Remember, the apostrophe lets the reader know that a letter or letters have been left out of a word.

Do not



In the matter of possession, the letter left out is the letter


, as I have explained

to you before. It goes way back to Ye Olde English when possession was shown by adding


to the word.

Bring me the King



The apostrophe came to stand in for that


and let you know that it was a specific crown you were to bring, the crown of the King, not just any crown. And without that indicator, how would you possibly have known that? Punctuation acts as guideposts to the readers, telling them when someone is speaking, when there is an interruption of thought, when there is a question being asked. And apostrophes distinguish between mere plurals and possession.

The apostrophe unnecessary? What's next, doing away with all punctuation and letting the reader decide what you meant? How about getting rid of stop signs? Maybe the neighborhood would look tidier without them.

These signposts intrude to serve us all. So let's (that is

let us

, but the


has been omitted) stop this nonsense and be thankful for those things that help us to navigate roads and the written word and pay attention to them. You might want to avoid the business that doesn't know how to write its own name, however. What else don't they know?

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

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