The apostrophe: its proper use and how it’s often misused

NEARLY half of British adults are unable to use the apostrophe correctly, according to a recent survey

Well, that’s what happens when you’re unable to concentrate long enough to learn the basic rules on its use – about a minute and a half, I would say.



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20 responses to “The apostrophe: its proper use and how it’s often misused

  1. I’m a bit freakish about spelling and punctuation – an apostrophe in the wrong place makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. My punishment for being such a pain in the neck is to be given all the proof-reading in our office.

    One particular bugbear when I lived in Nottinghamshire was that many people didn’t know the difference between as and has because they were pronounced in exactly the same way.

  2. Johnny Norfolk

    I believe schools do not teach this now, since Labour came to power. Lets have more Grammer (at )Schools.

  3. Will S

    Your quite right.

    Just kidding.

  4. richard

    I heartily agree.

    Its a national disgrace.

  5. PeteB

    One other interesting conclusion in the survey is that those educated under the Comprehensive system did better than those from the Secondary Modern/Grammar School years. (One speaks for England, of course …)


  6. Great post – fully agree!

    The most basic rule of all is – if in doubt, leave it out!! (or rewrite the sentence so you don’t need it, but that’s not quite as punchy).

  7. NFN

    Johnny, is your reply delibarately satirical? I find it hard to tell nowadays…

  8. It’s a travesty that there are people who don’t know their “its” from their “it’s” they’re definitely not beneficiaries of “education, education, education” which Tony Blair once stated were his three main priorities. Just look where it’s left us.

  9. Zorro

    Tom, How do you think it can be that such a basic piece of grammer is virtually unknown and everybody is still passing their GCSEs with straigh A grades? It couldn’t possibly be true could it that the exams have been dumbed down? That the kids are taught just what they need to pass those dumbed down exams by rote, and don’t actually /learn/ anything at all?

    It couldn’t possibly be could it?

  10. Incorrect use of the wee rascal that is the apostrophe also irritates me intensely.

    Who’s idea was it to dumb down education so much?

  11. Stuart – I assume you meant to say “Whose idea…”

  12. Tom – no I didn’t mean to say whose, although you’re right, that is correct of course; my deliberate mistake with the old apostrophe was meant as a joke.

    I remember you saying that if you have to explain a joke there’s no point in telling it. My humour tends to get missed by Labour MPs (or is that MP’s?) and probably most other people come to think of it.

    Your colleague Paul Flynn MP wrote this to me on his blog.

    “This blog strives to be a forum for thinking people. Your contributions might be suitable for the Daily Sport. It’s discouraging if my regular readers have to wade through low grade witless verbiage before they read the worthwhile contributions.”

    (Those being the ones he agrees with!)

    This is now proudly one of the “endorsements” on my own blog.

    BTW, I presume you meant to say Stewart!

  13. Nick the Greek

    Is the apostrophe that important?

    I have just finished reading No Country for Old Men and the whole book is written without any punctuation.

  14. Frank Davis

    Its about time people were told how to use apostrophe’s properly. There was a piece on Newsnight last night about it. Your supposed to put in apostrophe’s when some letter’s are missing, as in M’P’s (Members of Parliament, so lot’s of letters missing there). And then you should’nt put in apostrophe’s when something belongs to someone, like for example his and hers. But the boffin’ talking to Paxo said nobody knew where to put the apostrophe in The Parents Association. But its pretty bloody obvious that it should go before the t as in aren’t, So its the Paren’ts Association. The other thing the boffin’ said was that maybe people should just stop using apostrophes. I almost blew my top at that. I think they shoul’d be used more often! In equal opportunity English, e’very wor’d woul’d ‘ave ‘n apos’trophe. W’hy shoul’d s’ome wor’ds ‘ave apostrophe’s and not others? ‘Eh?

  15. Johnny Norfolk


    What does ‘satirical’ mean. I only went to a bog standard Labour secondary modern.

  16. iain ker

    Nick the Greek
    November 12, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    I have just finished reading No Country for Old Men and the whole book is written without any punctuation.

    You were gypped – my copy (and the Amazon see inside copy) comes with the fule gamut of punctuation. Take it back to the shop.

  17. Donkey Kong

    Never mind apostrophes – give us your opinion on something important. Perhaps you’d like to defend your Prime Minister after his utterly disgraceful conduct at PMQs today? No, thought not…

  18. I can almost see the commenters here pouring over their posts to make sure they’re grammatically correct, that the spelling’s correct and that all of their apostrophes are in the correct place … largely it’s an irrelevance though since people by-and-large manage to communicate without a full understanding of the language they use and continue to manage in spite of the mistakes they make. It only becomes an issue where the mistake results in multiple possible interpretations eash of which has a distinct meaning.

    Otherwise it’s just irksome to those in the know, and, while I’m going on, at what point does the grammatical error become the grammatical norm and therefore grammatically correct? Given that language is a fluid and evolving thing there must come a point, regrettabley, where what we were taught at school (decades ago) ceases to have relevance. It’s a process no doubt enhanced by the mass levels of (semi) literacy and the forms and ease of written communications that simply did not exist previously.

    How wonderful it is that the yoof ov 2day rite little haiku letters to each other as the passing whim takes them! Let us celebrate the mass communcication enjoyed by the technologically capable, yet bizzarely ill-educated have achieved …

    … incidentally I’ve not proof read this, which is why it’s soooo long.

    … and Tom, you’re right. It’s disappointing all round.

  19. There’s a school of linguistic thought, incidentally, that holds that native speakers of a language can do no such thing as ‘make a mistake’…

    PS: Another Alasdair? How odd…

  20. Odd! Me? ok, maybe a little … glad to see I’m not the only person who spells my name correctly!

    On the linguistic thing, it stands to reason that the only reason we actually can make ‘mistakes’ in the written and spoken language is due to the fact that it must be formalised and structured in some way in order for it to be taught in a coherent manner.

    Of course, prior to formal language education people generally semed to have been able to make themselves understood amongst a variety of groups speaking a variety of languages and dialects. Surely then the only measure of ones ability to use a language ‘correctly’ is by their ability to make themselves understood.

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