The little punctuation mark known as the apostrophe creates a big stir when it’s misused. Throughout history, writers, grammarians and others have debated over the necessity of the apostrophe. Its misuse and abuse is rampant in writing.
George Bernard Shaw, a twentieth century literary giant, despised the possessive apostrophe and used it as sparingly as possible. His disdain for this little punctuation mark further fueled a debate that already had a place in history and that still rages today. On one side of the debate are those who think the apostrophe should sulk its way to the history books because it annoys people who do not know how to use it while confusing those who do not. The other side believes in preserving it and teaching the proper usage.
The seriousness with which some view the apostrophe is obvious by the loose organizations or websites that are either for or against it. In the US, there is the American Apostrophe Association, and England boasts the Apostrophe Protection Society and the Association for the Annihilation of the Aberrant Apostrophe. There is also a website called Kill the Apostrophe.
Indeed, many writers seemingly throw random apostrophes into their writing that makes little sense. It’s almost as if they are flinging random drops of paint with a brush. Misplaced or unnecessary apostrophes drive those who know how to use them correctly slightly crazy. Sad but true, the misuse and abuse shows up everywhere. From business names to news stories and signs of all types, aberrant apostrophes run wild across the world, creating a pandemic of poor grammar that threatens to undermine clarity in the written word.
There are three common misuses and abuses of the apostrophe.
- Adding apostrophes to the plural versions of words when one is not needed. The important thing here is to make sure a word is actually possessive.
- Adding apostrophes to plural abbreviations. Ironically, this use was historically correct, but modern grammar conventions deem it as incorrect.
- Adding apostrophes to note decades. No apostrophe is needed; there is no possession.
Incorrect: The new chicken snack wrap’s from Burger King got more publicity from pulling the Mary J. Blige commercial with the R&B star singing about the treat than the exposure from the actual commercial. (wraps is correct)
Incorrect: While Levi Johnston might not rush out to buy the latest DVD’s on fatherhood, he certainly appears eager for a second chance after his lackluster fatherly effort with Bristol Palin. (DVDs is correct)
Sometimes an apostrophe is added for clarification even when it is not required. An example is when referring to letters or a word that is plural (do’s and don’t’s or dotting i’s and crossing t’s). This is never mandatory; it’s simply a judgment call to provide clarity.
Incorrect: The flying car of the 1980’s much loved “Back to the Future” films is no longer something in the far-off future with the development of the world’s first flying car. (1980s is correct)
Avoiding these common misuses can stop the pandemic abuse that runs free in the writings of many. Regardless of a writer’s position on the debate over the use of the apostrophe, incorrect use is sure to elicit some frowns, disdain and a lack of confidence in writing ability.