Friday Musings: The Rampant Misuse of the Apostrophe


I am passionate about the rampant misuse of the apostrophe. I am baffled by its scope and progression over time. I am mystified about its origins.

I am, perhaps, a bit too emotionally invested in combating this widespread grammatical blunder.

Misplaced efforts aside, let me set before you the facts.

A disease pervades American writing. I began to notice it about 5 years ago and it has only become more aggressive since.

The scale of its infiltration is evidenced everywhere; I often photograph examples.

To what end? Hmm. My pinterest board?  Effective combat technique, right?

Office supply store which shall remain nameless. What do menus have that the rest of the products lack? Really.
Office supply store which shall remain nameless. What do menus possess that the rest of the products lack? Really.

Culprits include grocery stores, restaurants, clothing shops, blogs, and billboards.

These are only examples from the public square; daily, I read emails with plural nouns that apparently possess some mysterious, unwritten thing: “Everyone bring your hamburger’s!” or “Honor your mother’s.”

My hamburger’s what? My mother’s what?!?!

Perhaps the most frequent offender is the surname. For some reason, we can’t seem to pluralize a last name without adding an apostrophe.

As if the Smiths would be lonely without it.  So we write: “The Smith’s are coming over.”

Oh dear.

The root of this infection?

My hypothesis: we have simply forgotten our elementary school grammar and so are left vulnerable to the contagion. 

We see a billboard: “Get your vaccine’s here.” And the next thing we know we are writing “Hey man, just got me some new golf club’s.”

For reals. We need to remember our 3rd grade English teacher and think, “What would Mrs. Gangwar (mine) do?”

I’ve seriously considered making t-shirts that raise awareness of the expanding plague and offer free education about the proper usage of the apostrophe.

Obnoxious? Maybe.

Necessary? Definitely.

Are we selling pistachios or something that these pistachios own?
Are we selling pistachios or something that these pistachios own?

But, as I am not yet able to afford the upfront costs of screen-printing, (though I think this place looks cool) I will offer some help in the interim.

Apostrophe Guidelines from the Good Old MLA Handbook

“A principal function of apostrophes is to indicate possession. They are also used to form contractions. (Ex: “can’t,” “wouldn’t”)
a.) To form the possessive of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an s. Ex: the zebra’s stripes.

[Note the absence of an apostrophe in “stripes.” This is because the stripes are not possessing anything. The zebra is].

b.)To form the possessive of a plural noun ending in s, add only an apostrophe (after the “s” Ex: firefighters’ trucks).”

From there, it goes on to address irregular plural nouns, nouns in a series, etc. But I don’t think we need to get ahead of ourselves.

Simply Remember the Basics

1.) If a word is plural and not possessing anything, DO NOT USE AN APOSTROPHE.

2.) If it is not a contraction, DO NOT USE AN APOSTROPHE.

3.) When in doubt, DO NOT USE AN APOSTROPHE.

Use a semicolon or something. Really. We need to bring back the semicolon.

Here’s to halting the over-apostrophization of America. Who’s with me?

About Jenn

Jenn is a mommy of three and wife to her best friend. She enjoys good books, dinner guests, elevenses, and proper apostrophe use.

  • Crazy. Here in Florida, I see signs like this: “2 for .98 cents each.” huh? We are getting sloppy, for sure!
    from The Dugout

    • Gotta love the redundancies. 🙂

  • Yes! I couldn’t agree more. Glad to know someone else out there feels that we need to have a grammar police! I am going to have to follow your pinterest board now… 😉

    • 🙂 Follow away, though it’s currently very limited; I’m hesitant to pin things I see from other blogs so as not to offend. I think my best plan so far has been the t-shirts–raising awareness w/o shaming anyone, right? 🙂

  • Tiffany

    This is so true, and one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time! I’m passing this along to my friends 🙂

  • I haven’t seen this problem too often, but I’d probably have the same reaction. I think we’re a dying breed, though.

    • Bridget, I’m afraid you may be correct. 🙂

  • brenda venable

    Let’s make t-shirts! I find that I use a comma many more times than I really should throughout my writings. Should I be concerned about that too?

    • One battle at a time. Mine is against the apostrophe for now. 🙂

  • Raleen

    If you’ll continue to battle the misuse of the apostrophe, I’ll continue to attack the hypercorrected “I” for you and ME.

    • That’s right; you fight that battle, I’ll fight mine :). Which is good, because I’m rusty on the “I” vs “me” front. “I” just usually sounds safer, but then I guess that’s the problem with overusing the apostrophe as well…

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  • Mer Luchador

    OH MAN I want to punch people in the face when I see that!
    AND IT’S everywhere!
    what happened all of a sudden?
    are people not paying attention to grade 3 english?

  • Mer Luchador

    oh you forgot the period at the end of the sentence