Pity the poor apostrophe. Just when it thinks it can park off unnoticed in a quiet corner somewhere, along comes another berk who doesn’t know how to use one. And you know what apostrophical illiterates do for fun, don’t you? If they see an ‘s’, they fling one in. Before it, after it, it doesn’t matter. But if there’s an ‘s’ there sure as hell will be an apostrophe.
I know I touched on this in an earlier blog, but my rant still does not seem to have stamped out the practice. It seems further punctuition is warranted (no, it’s not a literal). To anybody who cares about words, sentences, punctuation and all the rest, this practice is infuriating. If ill-used apostrophes mean nothing to you, I can understand that you just won’t get why it seems important to us. But it is. So please, lower our stress levels by following a simple rule. If you don’t, and never will, understand when to use an apostrophe and when not to use one, just don’t ever use one at all. Rather leave them out than force them into places they do not belong.
You won’t always be right, but you’ll be right more of the time, and people like me may live ten years longer than we will if you persist in driving our stress levels into the ozone layer.
I suggest this because it seems to me that there are far more instances when an apostrophe is not needed than when one is. It stands to reason: there are loads of nouns, and consequently loads of plurals. And plurals, with few exceptions, do not take an apostrophe. (And dare one ask menu writers/writer’s to pay special attention.)
So, those of you who are about to write ‘toilet’s’ on a blackboard to tell people where they should go to pee, either leave the apostrophe out or explain to us what it is that the toilet possesses that you are keen for us to know about. The toilet’s seat, what? The toilet’s water?
But if you want to tell us that there is more than one toilet, and that that is where we will find them, lose the apostrophe, dummy. And if you want to tell us about the specials on offer in your restaurant today, you might want to write Today’s Specials on the blackboard, because they are the specials you are offering today, i.e. the specials of (possessive) the day. But no, the same guy who will add an apostrophe to Toilets will leave it out of Today’s Specials. The apostrophically-challenged are like that.
When to write its or it’s? You may know this, but for those who don’t, perhaps this will help: even people who work with words sometimes have to stop and look at its or it’s again to check that they haven’t slipped up. I do. The simple possessive rule applies in reverse here, hence the difficulty. It’s, whereas you would expect it to refer to something that belongs to it, actually means it is, the apostrophe taking the place of the ‘i’ in is. Its, by contrast, is possessive, so you’re referring to something that belongs to ‘it’, yet oddly not using an apostrophe in this exception.
To practice, and bearing in mind the above, try fixing up the following sentence:
‘Its evident that the toilets seat is one of todays specials.’
If in this instance you didn’t add an apostrophe to toilets – sorry, caught you out.
And if, after reading the above, you added an apostrophe before the second ‘s’ in specials, there is no hope for you.
By the way, the little marks at each end of that sentence are not apostrophes. They’re quotation marks. Yes, yes, I know they look the same but … oh never mind.

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Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman is a journalist, budding playwright and sometime chef. He's written two plays, An Influence of Ghosts and Blue Train Coming, and back in the day wrote loads of songs. He paints a bit in watercolours...

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