The apostrophe. The bane of every greengrocer’s existence. The key to Lynne Truss selling a bucket load of books with her holier-than-thou attitude to English grammar and punctuation rules. The source of many a chortle from those who are in the know at the expense of those who aren’t.
I must admit that sometimes I see an errant apostrophe and it does make me, if not weep, at least shed a small tear. However, I just assume that either people were never taught how to use them, think that it isn’t important or are intimidated by the likes of Truss and her merry band of pedants and therefore are afraid of learning how to use them.
Wherever an apostrophe is placed, we can usually figure out what the writer wanted to say. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter.
Despite what a lot of people seem to think, the rules for using apostrophes are not that difficult to figure out. Not many of my students have huge difficulties with it, but that might be because students just see it as another eccentric aspect of English and so take it in their stride.
The only time I have a problem is when a singular noun ends in the letter ‘s’. Should I write it as it sounds, e.g. James’s book. Or should I write it without the extra ‘s’ as in James’ book.
I always had this problem but it was so rare that I was able get around it, or at least close my eyes and ignore it. That is, until we named our son Thomas. Then I had to make a decision. These were basically my choices: a) do whatever I wanted to at any particular time, or b) be consistent and chose one or the other and stick to it.
I chose the second option and that started my second problem. I often found that I couldn’t remember what I had chosen. The solution was perfectly simple, find a style guide, see what they said and stick to that. If I couldn’t remember which one I had chosen I could always go back to the style guide.
That would have taken a bit of work, and before I started on that bit particular mission I read Thomas the Tank Engine to my son one night, and lo and behold, there was my solution. What better style guide that Thomas and his Friends. Here is something that I am pretty sure is going to be reference in our house for a long time to come, it is going to be read and re-read, watched and re-watched. Why not use this as my style guide?
So that is what I have done. I now follow the great Reverend Wilbert Audrey and write it like this: Thomas’ book.
By the way, any punctuation, grammar or spelling mistakes in this article are there on purpose and serves as a way to test your knowledge of them. I would, of course, never make a mistake myself.
Stephen Fry on Language
You could have just skipped the first part of my blog and watched this video. Much more eloquent than I could ever hope to be.
Frank Zappa – Apostrophe (‘)
Because a day with a bit of Frank Zappa in it is a good day.