Spelling and grammatical errors can make an otherwise professional publication unsightly…

This issue we look at some apostrophe catastrophes! Rules dictating the use of the apostrophe are simple. However, as the pictured examples show, many users of the English language need to learn (or re-learn) those rules.

With the rise of electronic communication, many are in the habit of leaving out apostrophes. It’s faster to type its than it’s and (cringe!) your rather than you’re, especially on a mobile phone. Some wonder why we even need apostrophes. Yet, more often than not, an apostrophe catastrophe involves the mistaken addition of an apostrophe rather than the absence of one.

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Do you rely on Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker? Do you always understand the red wiggles and green squiggles it puts under your writing? How often is spellcheck wrong?

Interestingly enough, although each of the pictured examples could justifiably be called an apostrophe catastrophe, only two out of seven triggered a warning from Word. So, we must keep our proofreading eyes open and abide by grammatical conventions in order to deliver professional work to our readers.

Remember: apostrophes are ONLY used to indicate the omission of letters or to indicate possession. Here are some apostrophes that aren’t behaving badly:

‘Whose glasses are these?’ Whose, not who’s, because the latter would mean who is or who has
‘Those are Shelley’s glasses.’ An apostrophe and s is added to the name Shelley to indicate Shelley’s ownership.
‘Which Shelley? There are two Shelleys at the party today.’ No apostrophe is required in plural words like Shelleys here.
‘No, you’re thinking of Sally. Shelley’s left!’ You’re means you are and is not to be confused with the possessive pronoun your, as in your glasses. Here, rather than ownership, the apostrophe in Shelley’s name signals a contraction: Shelley has.
‘If these glasses are hers, I can give them to her tomorrow.’ Of course, the English language can always be counted on to throw up exceptions to a rule. A couple of hundred years ago, we would have written ‘If these glasses are her’s’, but now we do away with the apostrophe and simply write hers. The most important exception is its (indicating possession), which can be distinguished from it’s (it is).


Solutions to the pictured examples:

  1. Known for it’s superb premium wines: Spellcheck would have advised the writer of this tourist brochure to change it’s to the possessive its.
  2. Award winning indoor, architectural and outdoor lighting: It was designed by the world’s leading architects and industrial designers.
  3. Suzuki Jimny may take its fun seriously, but it’s clear it needs to work on its grammar!
  4. Also as you may know: The word weeks does not require an apostrophe because it is a plural.
  5. Alice’s adventures turned the world of English literature on its head (not it’s). Shame on the publisher who prints a book with an error in the blurb!
  6. Limited number of Kawai upright pianos and grand’s going for a song! The word grands is a plural and therefore does not require an apostrophe.
  7. Our historic Mount Gambier: the show teaches us about Mount Gambier, its people and its places. They can’t possibly mean, ‘Mount Gambier: It is people! It is places!’
  8. Lastly, a call to arms: If the system’s broken, together we fix it. Pedants unite!


The original version of this article was published as ‘Frustrations of an English Pedant’ in The Australian Writer issue 380 (June–August 2013).

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