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Richard Nordquist

The Campaign to Abolish the Apostrophe

By May 31, 2007

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Pikes Peak, named after explorer Zebulon Pike, lost its apostrophe in 1891. That was the year that the newly formed U.S. Board on Geographic Names outlawed this seemingly innocent mark of punctuation: "The possessive form using an 's' is allowed," declared the Board, "but the apostrophe is almost always removed."

Some would be quite happy to broaden the ban on that "morbid growth in English orthography," as linguist Steven Byington characterized the mark. Writing in American Speech in 1945, he observed that "the language would be none the worse for its abolition." . . .


For the complete article (revised and expanded), see Should the Apostrophe Be Abolished?


Comments

May 31, 2007 at 9:56 am
(1) Ferne says:

If people understood that, apart from the possessive use, apostrophes stand in for missing letters, there would be much less argument about them. The apostrophe in don’t replaces the “o”, in we’ll it replaces the “wi”. It makes it easier to teach if people get that. And if they don’t all I can say is, well well all go to grammatical hell. Now, if you are talking about that other waste of space, the hyphen! Sheesh! Don’t get me started.

May 31, 2007 at 11:55 am
(2) Shelley says:

Worth preserving, most definitely. Apostrophes certainly do clarify meaning in contractions, and I don’t care if they’re “uncool.” By the way, I see no mention of Frank Zappa’s 1974 album Apostrophe (‘), but it was terribly cool.

Honestly, drop the apostrophe and what new assault on English comes next? People may begin to neglect to hit the shift key for the personal pronoun “I,” substitute the ancient Mesopotamian city-state of “Ur” in place of “you are” and use all sorts of creative spellings such as “plz,” “cya” and “nOOb.” Oh. Wait.

May 31, 2007 at 12:24 pm
(3) nobbitt says:

My pet peeve is the misuse of the apostrophe, when used with acronyms and in classified ads. It’s RNs, not RN’s, and CPAs, not CPA’s. I would think twice about applying for work at a company that advertises their lack of proofreading and grammatical skills. I am now worried that I’ve made a serious grammatical error while posting this comment.

May 31, 2007 at 1:26 pm
(4) Schoenleber says:

Keep it. It is helpful despite its abuse.

May 31, 2007 at 1:27 pm
(5) Susan says:

Ill become ill if dumb down our language because its too challenging and requires people to THINK! I am a Speech-Language Pathologist.

May 31, 2007 at 1:28 pm
(6) Susan says:

Whoops – left out the “we” above. There goes that hyphen, too!

May 31, 2007 at 1:34 pm
(7) aaronjsilver says:

I also speak Spanish and they don’t use them and they seem to understand each other quite well. They simply pay attention to the context in which a word is used.

May 31, 2007 at 2:29 pm
(8) R. D'Antonio says:

My last name contains an apostrophe. I really don’t want to eliminate it because it’s part of my heritage. Unfortunately, many computers seem to have a hard time dealing with apostrophes. (My driver’s license and one of my credit cards don’t have the apostrophe on them.)

May 31, 2007 at 3:25 pm
(9) Ferne says:

So it’s computers at the bottom of this. I thought so!

May 31, 2007 at 3:26 pm
(10) Ed says:

But the Spanish and Portuguese use accents to distinguish between otherwise similar words “esta” and “está”, whereas in English we don’t… rebel, project (noun vs. verb)… and why do the Germans capitalize all the nouns? Such are the elements that give character to language. Keep the apostrophes, I say.

May 31, 2007 at 3:32 pm
(11) Ron says:

I love the apostrophe! Preserve it!

May 31, 2007 at 3:51 pm
(12) Vennie says:

To me, getting rid of the apostrophe is like getting rid of one of the letters of the alphabet. It’s (not “its”) there for a purpose. I say we keep it.

May 31, 2007 at 5:31 pm
(13) Ann Nieto says:

Instead of banishing the apostrophe, let’s banish the people who misused it.

May 31, 2007 at 6:24 pm
(14) Barb says:

After reading the very witty book entitled Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, I carry a permanent marker and correct errors-in both the misuse of commas and apostrophes-on printed material whenever I get the chance (and, believe me, opportunities abound!.

May 31, 2007 at 6:42 pm
(15) Joan says:

Oh yes, definitely KEEP the apostrophe! It makes life so much easier and allows you to be so much more specific.

Let’s face it, there are only two main areas where you have to learn to use it: contractions and possessives – and the rules for both are simple and easy. How lazy can you be?!

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

- Joan

May 31, 2007 at 6:46 pm
(16) Charles says:

Please don’t forget the Irish with names like O’Brian. I’ve (note the apostrophe)already lost my apostrophe in all my online transactions.

May 31, 2007 at 6:48 pm
(17) Marie says:

Ney on this ban. Kids already beat -up English badly emough in their IMs. I saw an ad on TV with a young girl in it speaking to her Mom in her own “shothand” using only the first letter of each word. Why not? Kids wants pretty much seem to rule the world today anyway. Imagine working a second job to pay for kid’s cellphones. Never!!

May 31, 2007 at 6:59 pm
(18) Helen says:

Geez! First “they” demote Pluto, next is the apostrophe; can’t the little guy get a break?
Keep the apostrophe!

May 31, 2007 at 7:36 pm
(19) bill says:

Absolutely keep the apostrophe! We have given away too many rules and niceties already. More structure is usually needed, not less. [Note the two spaces at the end of each sentence.] ;-)

May 31, 2007 at 11:50 pm
(20) Paula says:

Please keep the apostrophe. It DOES help clarify the written word. We need all the help we can get just to understand each other!

June 1, 2007 at 3:24 pm
(21) Anita says:

Long live the apostrophe! It’s deserving of its place in the dictionary.

June 1, 2007 at 4:50 pm
(22) Willie says:

Apostrophes are helpful. The context is too often misleading. For example, consider the following sentence: “I like to play with my friend Lewin’s ki ds.” Perfectyly harmless, b ut look a t what happens if one says it with out the apostrophe – at a casual glance, some suspicious right-wing talk-radio types might think I meant, Monica!

June 2, 2007 at 10:13 am
(23) Becky says:

Keep the apostrophe! It is a small, but important part of the English language.

June 2, 2007 at 12:22 pm
(24) Thomas says:

It’s a shame that even some very educated folks (like Brodie and Room) want to ban the apostrophe because it’s too “difficult” to get some people to “follow the rules.” There will always be things that, though correct, are difficult for some people to do. That doesn’t mean we should abandon rules that make sense. Words like “he’ll” and “hell” demonstrate in the clearest way that we do need the apostrophe. Let’s not change rules to make life easier for some.

Additionally, let’s not “dumb-down” our language because of instant messaging. IM is a unique form of communication with its own set of rules. If we don’t force “cool” IMers to follow the rules of grammer, let’s not force writers to follow the practices of IM.

So, let’s keep the apostrophe! Its dual use, for contractions and for the possessive case, makes it a versatile and important little mark! Finally, on principle, we shouldn’t change rules just to help out those who can’t follow rules in the first place!

June 3, 2007 at 10:31 am
(25) Eva says:

The abolition of the apostrophe seems to me to be an absurd notion. As a society, we are already allowing our language to be corrupted, frayed, and abused by our majority of denizens. And now we are going to let their rules dominate the time-worn perfections of English grammar? I don’t think so! Exiling the apostrophe would be a submissive, biddable, and cowardly act. We should be attempting to bring a cessation to the misuse of language and grammar–not encouraging it by altering it to appease those who abuse it in the first place! As a 15-year-old, I do use emailing and messaging sites, but I hold true to my beliefs about the accurate use of language. I do not resort to “ily”, “ttyl”, and the like, and neither should the rest of the world that cares about the English language. Moreover, the apostrophe is an evidently necessary item. I cannot fathom how it could be too difficult for some to grasp, but even if it is, we should not accept ignorance. We need to meliorate it!

June 3, 2007 at 11:00 am
(26) Janet says:

If we abolish the apostrophe, the language will suffer for it, and if we roll over and play dead instead of teaching people to use the language correctly, then what’s next? Keep the apostrophe, and raise the bar instead of lowering it.

June 3, 2007 at 7:09 pm
(27) Kathy says:

Teach beginning readers that they need to read the entire sentence to figure out what that first word was and how to pronounce it? Oh yeah, that makes it simpler! We have enough ambiguities in English without working at creating more. Keep ‘em.

June 4, 2007 at 3:35 am
(28) Isaac Okoni says:

Let us write the possessive statement in full but retain the compressed form in spoken speech. Ok?

June 4, 2007 at 2:06 pm
(29) Betsy says:

Save the apostrophe, for non-grammar reasons, it is used in visual basic programming to denote a comment which clarifies the meaning of a program. Also, it is used before an operator in an Excel cell to show entry is not a formula. For example, “‘-80″ or “‘+80″ will appear as “-80″ and “+80″.

June 4, 2007 at 3:03 pm
(30) michael bash says:

I realize language is a living thing, but why are we having this discussion? There must be/are better things to occupy our time.

June 4, 2007 at 3:03 pm
(31) Eileen says:

When I was at school we were taught very precisely how to use the apostrophe. We had an extremely good English teacher. So I think it should stay in our language. I now live abroad and with the Dutch language we learned how to use the apostrophe. Its also always used in the case of certain words that end in a plural but have a vowel at the end before the plural is used. Might sound odd but its part of their language. So I stick to my point let the apostrophe stay.

June 4, 2007 at 3:52 pm
(32) BILL says:

Of course keep the apostrophe! What a ridiculous notion (axing it) and discussion.

June 4, 2007 at 4:02 pm
(33) monkey says:

keep ‘em!

June 4, 2007 at 4:08 pm
(34) Patrick Jehu says:

The problem with apostrophes is that they serve no practical purpose. Those who point to the he’ll/hell ‘problem’ take no notice of the role of context and syntax in all communicative discourse.

In a given and known context, “hell see you in five minutes” would not be misunderstood. If you take any contrived example in isolation, that is true in other cases where we dont differentiate. If someone asks me what ‘bow’ means, I cannot answer, because there is no context, and it has two pronunciations.

Apostrophes do not even reflect pronunciation. They are supposed to reflect ellipted syllables in contractions in written language, but even here there is no representation of any actual pronunciation.

As for all those who talk about ‘correctness’ and ‘corruption’ of the english language, what a load of bollocks! There are too many ‘language mavens’ who take it upon themselves to come out with pompous pontifications of this sort, without the least sort of documentation or argumentation, and there is even with some an idea that their idea of ‘correct’ use of language has something to do with either clearness of thought or even moral integrity. They play on the insecurity that many ordinary mortals have had indoctrinated into them since their schooldays.

June 4, 2007 at 5:57 pm
(35) Peter K says:

Keep it and learn to use it: Shape up or ship out.

June 4, 2007 at 6:00 pm
(36) Gina Bisaillon says:

Proper use of one’s language is a discipline which prepares us for some of the other disciplines we all have to face in life.

Not caring about how we write is disrespectful towards others, but above all, disrespectful towards our language and culture.

A little discipline and respect have never hurt anyone.

June 5, 2007 at 8:52 am
(37) Patrick Jehu says:

#

“Keep it and learn to use it: Shape up or ship out.”

Comment by Peter K — June 4, 2007 @ 5:57 pm
What a wonderfully meaningless sentence! What on earth can he mean? Ship out where? Is this another version of “America. Love it or leave it?”

“Proper use of one’s language is a discipline which prepares us for some of the other disciplines we all have to face in life.

Not caring about how we write is disrespectful towards others, but above all, disrespectful towards our language and culture.

A little discipline and respect have never hurt anyone.”
Comment by Gina Bisaillon — June 4, 2007

Note that the above is just empty moralising, with not a scintilla of argument. “Discipline” has nothing to do with it, except in the sense of senseless drills to no purpose. My arguments in favour of abolishing the apostrophe show (a) that I care about the written language, and (b) shows respect to those users of “our” language, which Gina Bisaillon obviously feels belongs to her and a few others only, who get muddled by the “rules” concerning a useless piece of punctuation. As for her final remark, she should wag her raised finger at someone else!

June 5, 2007 at 12:44 pm
(38) Margaret says:

Because many people today are too stupid to know how to use the apostrophe, it doesn’t mean we should abolish it. I am heartily sick of the dumbing down of our country and the use of our language and punctuation. Go back to grade school/high school. Learn to use it and get on with your life. Or, conversely, don’t use it and display your stupidity for all.

June 5, 2007 at 2:14 pm
(39) Patrick Jehu says:

Dear Margaret,
It is you who reveals your own lack ofany form of reflection, in the sense that you fail to answer with any arguments whatsoever. The reason for abolishing it has nothing to do with dumbing down. The point is, and I repeat it it that it is a useless piece of punctuation, which serves no purpose, does not reflect any form of pronunciation and whose absence makes no difference to meaning, as this is clear from the syntax and the context in which the relevant words appear. The rules were codified in the 19th century by narrow-minded pedants.

“Learn to use it and get on with your life”, you write. I know the rules, and am indeed an expert, as I teach academic writing at a university, which is why I am at least as qualified as you are to discuss the matter.”

“Don’t use it and display your stupidity for all”. What wonderful arguments you bring to the debate with remarks like this. Very convincing!

“I am heartily sick of the dumbing down of our country and the use of our language and punctuation. Go back to grade school/high school.” By the terminology you use, I suppose you are referring to the USA. Is this how you debate there? Oh dearie me!

June 5, 2007 at 11:20 pm
(40) daylight 365 says:

Dumbing down is not going to help the dummies nor the literate. Keep the A pos tra phee Alive & FREE!!!!

June 6, 2007 at 4:55 am
(41) Patrick Jehu says:

daylight 365 (presumably inoperative in leap years) writes:
“Dumbing down is not going to help the dummies nor the literate. Keep the A pos tra phee Alive & FREE!!!!”

Another blow for the freedom to spell how you like and repetitive punctuation!

June 6, 2007 at 7:46 pm
(42) Lisa says:

The worst abuse of the apostrophe is when it is improperly applied to a name ending in the letter S. Why do people always put the apostrophe in FRONT of the S, as though the S were not a part of the name?

Anyway, it should be kept. I hate the abuse that written language has taken with the advent of internat chat rooms, where any abreviation and capitalization is completely shunned. Have some respect, people!

June 6, 2007 at 11:00 pm
(43) Erin says:

Apostrophes are too deeply ingrained now in the English language to be abolished. It is like the idea of Americans converting to the metric system–it’s good in theory, but it would probably fail in practice because people have already learned the use of apostrophes and the English system of measurement.

June 7, 2007 at 10:26 am
(44) Kay says:

Apostrophes require people to understand and try to be educated. It is the laziness of the people today who don’t want to learn but want everything phonetically spelled so it is EASY. The apostrophe is sooo… needed to clarify what is being said; why should you have to read and reread a sentence to figure out if it is “well” or “we will”? Just as accent marks and tildes(~) are used in Spanish, the apostrophe is needed in English.

June 7, 2007 at 12:36 pm
(45) Kent says:

I love the apostrophe. Its proper use helps me weed out the smart from the stupid. As an editor I can forgive an occasional misuse, but I’ll never spend money at a store selling “BOOK’S.”

June 7, 2007 at 2:28 pm
(46) Patrick Jehu says:

“Apostrophes are too deeply ingrained now in the English language to be abolished. It is like the idea of Americans converting to the metric system–it’s good in theory, but it would probably fail in practice because people have already learned the use of apostrophes and the English system of measurement.”

What a poor analogy! So Americans are unable to convert to the metric system, because the British derived system of weights and measures is too ingrained. This is plainly not true of other English-speaking countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, all of whom have completely and successfully converted to the metric system. Even Britain is slowly converting, with petrol (gasoline), for example having been sold in litres (liters) for over 20 years now. British schoolchildren are taught only the metric system, so with generational change the metric system will soon be universal in that country.
Similarly, any reform in the writing system, including the removal of apostrophes could be introduced the same way.

June 7, 2007 at 4:03 pm
(47) Patrick Jehu says:

Kay — June 7, 2007 writes:

“Apostrophes require people to understand and try to be educated. It is the laziness of the people today who dont want to learn but want everything phonetically spelled so it is EASY. The apostrophe is sooo… needed to clarify what is being said; why should you have to read and reread a sentence to figure out if it is “well” or “we will”? Just as accent marks and tildes(~) are used in Spanish, the apostrophe is needed in English.”

What is wrong with making reading and writing easier? With languages that have a better phonetic relationship between writing systems and speaking, such as Spanish and Turkish, research has shown that the incidence of dyslexia is significantly less. In addition to this, the association of some sort of moral turpitude implied by the use of the word “laziness” as a characteristic of people who have difficulty with either apostrophes or English spelling is a typical example of what I would call intellectual laziness, i.e. the automatic association of lack of spelling abilities with some sort of moral failure. There is no evidence of this whatsoever.

As for the remark concerning “we’ll”/well, Kay writes: “why should you have to read and reread a sentence to figure out if it is ‘well’ or ‘we’ll’? Well Kay, arent you being a little lazy here yourself? Youre not willing to make the effort that you demand of others! If leaving out the apostrophe became ubiquitous, people would soon get used to it.

Your remarks about the tilde are doubly irrelevant in this context. First of all, the or tilde represents a Spanish phoneme, and thus reflects pronunciation, something which the apostrophe in English doesnt do. Secondly, other Romance languages can represent an identical phoneme by combinations of letters, for Portuguese , or for French and Italian . The apostrophe is NOT needed in English.

Finally, if you are such a stickler for correctness, how do you allow yourself to use a spelling like “sooo”, which is not only wrongly spelled, but is, according to traditional grammatical rules “incorrect”?

June 7, 2007 at 4:11 pm
(48) Patrick Jehu says:

‘I love the apostrophe. Its proper use helps me weed out the smart from the stupid. As an editor I can forgive an occasional misuse, but I’ll never spend money at a store selling “BOOK’S.”’

Comment by Kent

You may be an editor, but you have an over-inflated view of your job. You seem to think that your ability to distinguish “correct” English somehow magically makes you able to ‘weed out the smart from the stupid’. What arrogance!

As for your not spending money at a store selling “BOOK’S”, thats your own funeral, and you may miss some bargains.

June 7, 2007 at 4:31 pm
(49) Matt says:

Misuse and misunderstanding should not be reasons for the abolition of the apostrophe; we should not eliminate what we don’t understand.

June 7, 2007 at 4:34 pm
(50) Everyone says:

Patrick –

You’re a douche.

June 7, 2007 at 5:06 pm
(51) Shane says:

Ok, let’s dumb down the great English language and drop all the punctuation marks that today’s poor brain-stretched kids can’t understand. It’s such a struggle for the little darlings to understand the greatest written communication system in the history of mankind, isn’t it?

Not to worry though. Given current immigration trends it won’t be long before the official tongue of the USA will be Spanish and us Brits will be speaking Arabic…

June 7, 2007 at 7:27 pm
(52) Patrick Jehu says:

Comment by Matt:
“Misuse and misunderstanding should not be reasons for the abolition of the apostrophe; we should not eliminate what we don’t understand.”

But we do understand it, and can see that it is useless.

Comment by Everyone:
“Patrick –

“You’re a douche.”

I understand that this is an American insult – I had to look it up in a slang dictionary. Another example of abuse and insults in lieu of argument, and, “Everyone”, the word you use rebounds on you.

Comment by Shane:
“Ok, let’s dumb down the great English language and drop all the punctuation marks that today’s poor brain-stretched kids can’t understand. It’s such a struggle for the little darlings to understand the greatest written communication system in the history of mankind, isn’t it?

Not to worry though. Given current immigration trends it won’t be long before the official tongue of the USA will be Spanish and us Brits will be speaking Arabic…”

No suggestion has been made to drop all punctuation marks – just the useless ones. Shane’s sarcastic remark about “poor brain-stretched kids” etc. is not an argument either, nor is his bombastic claim about “the greatest written communication system in the history of mankind”.

To use his own style, and from a fellow Brit, Shane, your contribution is a load of old bollocks!

June 7, 2007 at 8:12 pm
(53) Erin says:

For the record, Patrick, it was not me who called you a douche. I thought you might have made a fair point contradicting my comment.

June 8, 2007 at 6:52 am
(54) Nick says:

Come on! How hard is it to use an apostrophe? Are these people idiots or just lazy? If it had no purpose, it would not exist.

June 8, 2007 at 12:21 pm
(55) Everyone says:

Patrick –

I’m not making an argument in claiming that “you’re a douche.” I’m simply stating a fact commonly known and held by all people. In the same way, I wouldn’t argue that “the sun is hot.” It’s just commonly accepted.

And why must everything in the “comments” section of this article be an argument? This isn’t academic discourse; we don’t need to sustain lines of argument, or establish our research problems, or cite an exhaustive list of resources. We just need to state an opinion. Why you insist on attacking every comment on the grounds of being an insufficient argument is bewildering.

I hope you find peace with yourself soon.

-Everyone

June 8, 2007 at 12:58 pm
(56) Patrick Jehu says:

I do not say they must be comments, but I am also free to comment on the lack of argument, especially when writers of these comments use words like “stupid” or “lazy” about either those who do not know or do not care about the “correct” use of the apostrophe.

They are free to spout out this rubbish, and I am free to point out why it is rubbish.

June 8, 2007 at 1:39 pm
(57) Patrick Jehu says:

“Come on! How hard is it to use an apostrophe? Are these people idiots or just lazy? If it had no purpose, it would not exist.”

Comment by Nick — June 8, 2007

The quick answer is that there are any number of man-made objects which serve no useful purpose, many of them directly harmful.
Those in the 19th century who imposed the apostrophe obviously BELIEVED they were necessary. The problem is that in those days, the tendency was too pay much more attention to words and grammar (in its narrower sense of morphology) than to syntax and context, both of which are essential to conveying meaning.

Perhaps, Nick, you should reread Richard Nordquist’s article, from which these comments follow. Among others, he mentions the well-known Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, who as long ago as 1902 was contesting apostrophes, calling them “uncouth bacilli“. So the 19th century pedants were being challenged quite early on regarding this.

Unfortunately, you are yet another who (lazily and idiotically perhaps?) uses words like “lazy” and “idiotic” without any arguments or evidence to support the opinion you express.

Just to entertain everybody still further, I drove behind a van today selling fast food whose painted-on slogan was:
“COLD OR HOT
WE,VE GOT THE LOT”

The apostrophe seems to be falling down already!

June 8, 2007 at 3:05 pm
(58) Caryn says:

“We all hate apostrophes” – Seriously?

June 9, 2007 at 3:41 pm
(59) grammar says:

My thanks to all those who have taken the time to comment thoughtfully on the apostrophe issue.

Comments that are repetitive, off-topic, or disrespectful to other readers will, of course, be deleted.

Cheers–

Richard
grammar.guide@about.com

June 11, 2007 at 3:17 am
(60) Glennda says:

The more fully we understand, the more fully we can enjoy and appreciate. A complete language (with apostrophes) is for thinkers. I think we can use more of those!

June 11, 2007 at 5:50 pm
(61) Patrick Jehu says:

‘The more fully we understand, the more fully we can enjoy and appreciate. A complete language (with apostrophes) is for thinkers. I think we can use more of those!’

So, according to the logic of the above, a language without apostrophes can only be for non-thinkers, because they are incomplete. Danish is a language which, in general does not make use of apostrophes, even for possessive genitives. So Danes are not thinkers.

Glennda think’s we can use more apostrophes than we already do. It would be interesting know how. Perhaps some greengrocer’s and other’s have already shown the way. Let’s spr’ead ‘em a’round.

June 11, 2007 at 7:18 pm
(62) Katie says:

Absolutely keep the apostrophe! When I see it misused, my opinion of the writer plummets. I work in an academic library and frequently get emails from librarians that are absolute grammatical garbage. My cell phone doesn’t have an apostrophe and I have to send a text message with a / instead of an apostrophe. I’m sure the recipients think I’ve lost my mind ;)

June 12, 2007 at 7:22 am
(63) Joel says:

Patrick,

Although I’m sure you’re aware of the following I’d like to point it out to you anyway. You berate others for poor spelling and yet your own missives are at times riddled with obvious mistakes and I’m not referring to your sarcastic digs at indiviuals through deliberate misuse. Your arguments are sound but the way they’re delivered is both patronising and aggressive, you’re unlikely to persuade anyone with such a charmless approach. Thus your arguments fall on deaf ears. You also display the same dogmatic, blinkered, approach that some of those in favour of the apostrophe do but from an opposite perspective. A good debater will bring his or her audience with them by using guile, sound thinking and persuasion. If you really do care about abolishing the apostrophe as passionately as you seem to perhaps it would be an idea to adopt some of these skills. Having said all that I hope I don’t come across as patronising, these were merely my observations.

As for the use of the apostrophe, I believe in freedom of choice and honesty. I like it because as a sometimes smug, educated, writer it gives me a warm elitist glow. My 13 year old goddaughter couldn’t care less and for her there are far more important things in life. Her 15 year old sister however is a terrible pedant and to her it really matters.

Vive le difference!

June 12, 2007 at 5:09 pm
(64) 3coil says:

Referring to comment #61 by Patrick Jehu

It appears you were never educated in logic, Patrick. Your reply to comment 60, So, according to the logic of the above, a language without apostrophes can only be for non-thinkers, because they are incomplete, is a flawed assessment. Comment 60 asserts that a language with apostrophes is for thinkers. It does not, however, claim that languages lacking apostrophes are for non-thinkers. In order for that comment to fulfill your claim, it would have to say something to the effect of “A language is only complete with apostrophes. Complete languages are only for thinkers. Therefore, only thinkers use apostrophes.” Not the most efficient explanation (or logic), but I don’t feel like double checking at the moment :)

June 13, 2007 at 10:36 am
(65) Anna says:

I totally agree with comment 62 – I am a proof-reader and copy-editor and misuse of the apostrophe is one of the first warnings that I am going to have to work hard to make the piece of prose in front of me fulfil its (not “it’s”)purpose of clear and concise communication.

June 13, 2007 at 3:35 pm
(66) Patrick Jehu says:

To Joel:

“Your arguments are sound but the way they’re delivered is both patronising and aggressive, you’re unlikely to persuade anyone with such a charmless approach.”

“You also display the same dogmatic, blinkered, approach that some of those in favour of the apostrophe do but from an opposite perspective. A good debater will bring his or her audience with them by using guile, sound thinking and persuasion. If you really do care about abolishing the apostrophe as passionately as you seem to perhaps it would be an idea to adopt some of these skills. Having said all that I hope I don’t come across as patronising, these were merely my observations.”

A couple of comments about this:

I am aggressive, yes, and do not apologise for this, as some of the remarks addressed to me are no less so. As for charmlessness, this is not the point of the debate, and I regard ‘charm’ in such matters as a false and superficial virtue. At least you acknowledge that my arguments are sound. In what way am I (a) dogmatic and (b) blinkered? The dogmatists for me are those who insist on ‘correctness’ in the use of apostrophes. I do not object to anyone using apostrophes in their written discourse. What I object to is the insistence of pedants that everyone else should use them, and their equation of those who do not master them with laziness and even moral turpitude in many cases.

“You berate others for poor spelling and yet your own missives are at times riddled with obvious mistakes”.

Fair comment. However, the criticism of others spelling mistakes is less because I object to them, but more to point out their own ‘errors’, when they are so pedantic about other peoples writing mistakes. I am myself a teacher of academic writing at a university, and therefore a professional pedant. Through my experience, I have ended up focusing less on superficial spelling mistakes and such pettifogging ‘rules’ such as those on apostrophes, and much more on overall coherence and the articulate expression of ideas in writing.

You express the hope that you yourself hope you do not come across as patronising, having suggested that I am. It is possible that I am, but generally, people who are patronising are not aggressive at the same time, except indirectly. Are you patronising? Yes, in the sense that you address me like a vicar or a head-shaking priest.

“I like it because as a sometimes smug, educated, writer it gives me a warm elitist glow.”

My, you are easy to please!

“My 13 year old goddaughter couldn’t care less and for her there are far more important things in life. Her 15 year old sister however is a terrible pedant and to her it really matters.”

Your younger daughter is wiser, at least in this respect. However, it might be that she is at the apogee of good sense and wisdom at her age before the hormones and chemical changes of puberty have properly kicked in. That has been to a certain extent the experience I have had with my own four children.

June 13, 2007 at 3:38 pm
(67) Patrick Jehu says:

To Joel:

Sorry I wrote ‘daughter instead of ‘goddaughter’.

June 14, 2007 at 2:34 am
(68) Tim Saward says:

Your article has inspired me to formalise the campaign somewhat. See killtheapostrophe.

June 23, 2007 at 1:41 pm
(69) Anna Dalmaterra says:

don’t listen to anyone. no1 can tell u 2 use it or not! Whatever they decide, i dont care

July 23, 2007 at 8:45 am
(70) Liam says:

I’m sorry, but you can’t call the apostrophe useless. Think about possessives. You who say we should lose it, do we therefore say Jesus sandals? Or Jesuss sandals? Jesus sandals is already a slang term (at least in this part of the world) for that style of footwear. Jesuss could be a proper name or a misspelling of a biblical character’s name. And the boys champion. Now, is that champion the noun or the verb? And what if I’m talking about three boys? Should I say the boyss champion (for The boys’ champion) or leave it ambiguous? Then there’s the towns in Scotland…Dores’ town centre and Forress’ town centre. Should they be Doress and Foresss? Three ‘s’s is so ugly.

I could go on, but I think I’ve proved the ambiguity enough. Keep the apostrophe.

September 24, 2007 at 2:05 pm
(71) Ruth Pepperman says:

Please, please keep the apostrophe! In my view it is necessary and to abolish it would be pandering to laziness.

Is it so difficult to learn its uses? Apart from a short time in school (many years ago) when, not quite understanding the concept of where it went in relation to singular and plural, I used to put the possessive apostrophe hovering over the top of the “s”, it wasn’t so difficult to learn.

September 24, 2007 at 2:52 pm
(72) Leann says:

Please keep it! I also have a last name with an apostrophe in it. My last name and I are feeling very threatened right now. And yes, the computers are already persecuting us apostrophe people, so cut us some slack.

September 24, 2007 at 4:28 pm
(73) Kathy says:

Around here, the confusion seems centered on “it’s” vs “its” and it never ends.

September 24, 2007 at 4:33 pm
(74) Lynn says:

Yes, please keep the apostrophe! I would go crazy if he’ll became hell and we’ll became well. My bugaboo is using it’s for the possessive. I agree with Ferne’s comment #1 that if one remembered that “it’s” stands for “it is”, there would be no confusion. Ooh, and I HATE “her’s”. What the ?!?

September 24, 2007 at 4:48 pm
(75) thepumpmasterflex says:

I am British and we use punctuation much differently than do Americans. We can create ownership by simply or reasonable inferences in writing style…..To do away with this little jot or another later could prove problematic for the American language.

September 24, 2007 at 5:40 pm
(76) juneauesque says:

Keep the apostrophe! I will admit I often leave it out when instant messaging because I have an unfortunate habit of hitting the “Enter” key instead of the apostrophe, making don and won out of don’t and won’t. This invariably provokes questions like “who is don?” or “what did you win?” It also causes other grammatical errors by beginning the next line with only a “t”. LOL

September 24, 2007 at 6:22 pm
(77) Dejan Grahovac says:

Peter Buck, guitarist with the rock band REM apparently thinks there`s been no good rock album with an apostrophe in it. how very wrong. in fact one of best (and best known) and loved albums of all times IS called “APOSTROPHE” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of invention. I might add that maybe i would like to abolish REM; for their whining annoys me and, unlike in the case of apostrophe, no amount of education (basic literacy) would help change that.

September 24, 2007 at 6:30 pm
(78) Fellow Academic says:

Patrick Jehu, you have a typo in comment #39. A shame for an academic writing professor.

September 24, 2007 at 8:18 pm
(79) daylight 365 says:

This grammar rule is a basic foundation for the English language. What is worng wid doze goufbalz

September 24, 2007 at 9:41 pm
(80) Tam says:

We need to keep it. And teach kids how to use it.

September 25, 2007 at 2:29 am
(81) Dee says:

Get rid of the apostrophe? How ridiculous! I’m keeping it.

September 25, 2007 at 4:07 am
(82) Joel says:

Names that end in the letter ‘s’ look weird without the apostrophe. “This is Mrs. Rogers’ book” would either become “This is Mrs. Rogers book” which seems to indicate her name is Mrs. Roger, or “This is Mrs. Rogerss book”, which looks idiotic.

September 25, 2007 at 4:28 am
(83) Carol says:

I say keep the apostrophe. Getting rid of it is just opening a Pandora’s box of streamlining the language that could have us all using sms talk!
I live in the Netherlands and they had some buffoons who updated the spelling rules to make it simpler then a few years later changed it back, so now there are volumes out there to explain the new spelling, then later to explain the “new” new spelling – what a mess!!

A question to settle a debate: If a person’s name ends with an s (eg: Charles)don’t you just add an apostrophe and not an additional s (Charles’ book NOT Charles’s book). I’ve seen the latter in books teaching English and I cringe when I see it.

September 25, 2007 at 9:07 am
(84) nyer says:

If only Americans would learn language instead of trying to make it easier. Changing for laziness or ignorance is never a good thing–and as regards understanding from context whether hell is hell or he’ll, we could make the same arguments for grunts. unka-unak-unka!

September 25, 2007 at 9:31 am
(85) Shana says:

Well before the rise in popularity of IM automatic grammar “correction” in word processing and email programs destroyed the correct use of the apostrophe, backslash, comma and the hyphen. Though convenient, the application of rules for these grammatical tools is often wrong and arbitrary! For example, Thunderbird tags pluralized acronyms unless you add an apostrophe (e.g. VLANs vs. VLAN’s). The use of acronyms in general has led to shortspeak as well.

Ironically, the word “email” is a contraction of “electronic mail” so it technically deserves a hyphen (in the very early days you often saw it spelled e-mail). So don’t lay it all on the text messaging kiddies, their parents/grandparents created the technologies which abuse grammar. Plus, remember the granddaddy of all IM, IRC has been around for two decades: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IRC.

September 25, 2007 at 10:00 am
(86) Columbine says:

Scrapping a useful construct because some (even most) people are too lazy to learn how to use it effectively is doubleplusungood. We already have chatspeak for those who can’t be bothered to use English. Leave English intact for those who wish to understand and be understood, even when our ideas are complex.

September 25, 2007 at 10:06 am
(87) Lynne says:

The same stupid, lazy people who chronically misuse apostrophes also seem to be the quotation mark offenders. “Now” offering “real” beef hot dog’s and brat’s. Aargh. OK, maybe stupid and lazy is too harsh. Most likely a lot of folks are ignorant of correct punctuation usage due to poor education. I’ve encountered quite a number of teachers who don’t seem to know the rules, and pass on their lack of knowledge to class after class of student-victims. Misuse of punctuation makes a person look stupid, even if that is not the case.

September 25, 2007 at 10:11 am
(88) David Jonas says:

But, the crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe.

Frank Zappa

September 25, 2007 at 10:19 am
(89) a suburban housewife says:

I am concerned there might be an underlying tone of laziness that says, “I don’t want to learn how to use apostrophes properly.” Yes, it is work, but seeing someone use “its” and “it’s” correctly is quite thrilling, don’t you think?

September 25, 2007 at 11:01 am
(90) Janice says:

American children/adults are already horrible at speaking and writing, why abolish another rule that will only make things worse? The apostrophe is necessary!

September 25, 2007 at 11:55 am
(91) Nathan says:

Why don’t we ban laws too? People have a hard time sticking to them.

September 25, 2007 at 12:05 pm
(92) Ted Voth Jr says:

Where do I sign up? After all we don’t hear apostrophes when we speak, and we usually get what’s being said. Shaw didn’t even use em in contractions. Literacy’s hard enough…

September 25, 2007 at 12:35 pm
(93) Ericka Dearman says:

Who cares? This is definately non-news.

September 25, 2007 at 12:52 pm
(94) Helen says:

When I’m listening to someone speak, I hear words like “it’s” or “we’ll” and I understand contextually where the apostrophes go because I learned how to use them in the first place. People are just getting lazier and lazier when it comes to learning what I consider to be first-grade level language rules. Companies deliberately misspelling things to sound cool or interesting aren’t helping either.

September 25, 2007 at 2:19 pm
(95) Josh says:

I think there are far more important issues we need to spend our time on. I mean come on, it’s a simple little squiggle…get over it, not worth the thyme.

September 25, 2007 at 2:24 pm
(96) Ian says:

Get rid of it. Language evolves with time. The ‘rules’ of language aren’t written in stone. If i write something like “He said hell be back at 5″ and you can’t figure out i meant “he will” that’s your problem, not mine. (or if you can’t figure out what cant, thats or arent means without an apostrophe, thats also your problem).

Language is meant to communicate information and ideas … it’s not there to keep obsolete grammar rules alive. If i can communicate my ideas without using an apostrophe, then that language is valid as far as i am concerned.

September 25, 2007 at 3:32 pm
(97) Kathleen says:

I do have a problem with eliminating the apostrophe it doesn’t sound right, but the American Society has changed everything else to suit themselves and I’m sure they aren’t about stop now, but I say people that the people that have used this little mark will continue using itbecause they have used so long in their letters in business, it would really be confusing.like telling our kids not to use ain’t and charging them a quarter everytime they did and then find they put it in the dictionary a few years ago how rediculous. I do have problems in some words as to where the apostrophe but to eliminate I don’t think so folks. Have a great day.
Kathleen

September 25, 2007 at 9:24 pm
(98) andy says:

don’t remove the apostrophe. i dislike strongly when people leave it out and i can’t tell if they’re saying well, we’ll, he’ll, hell, etc.

September 26, 2007 at 2:51 am
(99) Benton Garrett says:

I don’t know when using apostrophes became “uncool”. I’m 18 and have been texting for as long as I can remember. Sure, I’ll admit that before T9 I usually did not go through the effort of using apostrophes, but…come on! I think it’s ridiculous to try and abolish the apostrophe. I mean seriously, I find very little logic behind the “movement”.

Take for example “we’ll” versus “well” versus “well”. WE’LL IS NOT WELL! They are two different units, and I don’t foresee a near future in which people decide in the daily grammar to instead use the full substitution of the contraction.

Why the hell are people even concerned about this? There are far more important issues to spend time on in this shattered world.

September 26, 2007 at 3:22 am
(100) Keenan says:

Skimming the comments it seems like most people here are in favor of keeping the apostrophe. Im most certainly of the opposite opinion. Context is how we determine what a word means, not spelling. If anyone here can’t understand “Well well all go down together,” then I say it is they who requires instruction in language. The same goes for any other contraction. Now I know there are probably a handful of cases where some contractions could be ambiguous, I cant come up with any of the top of my head, but even if they exist how often would the come up in usage? And to anyone that is of the opinion that things like this are “destroying the english language,” think about how we got the language to begin with! English is a mish-mash of other languages, each one “destroyed” to create it. Languages evolve and change, it really is usage that determines a language, not rules.

September 26, 2007 at 5:45 am
(101) grammar says:

Kennan–

You’re not alone, I assure you. After visiting this page a few months back, Tim Saward in London created a site of his own: Kill the Apostrophe (http://www.killtheapostrophe.com)–not overly subtle, perhaps, but well argued.

Best–

Richard
About Grammar & Composition

September 26, 2007 at 9:29 am
(102) Andy says:

I can’t STAND that my new phone doesn’t have the apostrophe available for texting…it should be the 2nd or 3rd punctuation mark it my opinion. It’s flexible, saves tons of characters, and makes a huge difference in a phrase like:
“Hell die without water were bringing.”

September 26, 2007 at 10:05 am
(103) Rapunzel says:

Using apostrophes, just like using commas (which many people are apparently willing to forgo along with apostrophes!), helps to clarify language. I don’t want to have to suss out everything I read by context when there’s already a perfectly good way to make something clear.

Keep the apostrophe! And the comma!

September 26, 2007 at 12:36 pm
(104) Ruth says:

I don’t recall ever stumbling over the usage of apostrophes. I had a bit more trouble with commas but, for those of us capable of reading beyond simple sentences, they are essential. Heaven forbid we all learn the rules of our own language.

September 26, 2007 at 4:49 pm
(105) John says:

As long as we are suggesting “improvements”, why not turn to the classics: . Twain is joking of course, though he did have a supposedly serious spelling reform proposal. I believe, however, that even the real one should be taken with more than a few grains of salt. Any language is challenged every day by the hoards of those who use it poorly. But has a good result ever been produced by debasing the standard to the level of it’s meanest practitioner. As long as the apostrophe is too “unnecessary”, perhaps one ought to consider eliminating other “excessive” features – for instance words over 7 letters long, since “normal” people don’t use them anyway, and the IM crowd would love us. Or why don’t we get rid of any standards and just allow unrestricted freedom?
After all, some people are magnificently expressive using nothing but four-letter words. Is there any line at all?

The idea that someone should seriously argue for eliminating the apostrophe (i.e. not a joke) is just stupefyingly bizarre. And as far as “contextual disambiguation” is concerned, we can observe the example of Chinese – which requires roughly 1.5 more characters than Japanese because it lacks effective ways to disambiguate, for instance, tenses.

September 26, 2007 at 5:17 pm
(106) Gina says:

Dump it! Simplification is the key.

September 26, 2007 at 7:03 pm
(107) Megan says:

This whole thing makes no sense–all this is, is lazy people who don’t want to bother to learn to write their own language correctly. Why should we change the langauge’s rules just because people refuse to pay attention in school? What’s next? “Bling-bling” in the dictionary? Oh, wait…

September 26, 2007 at 7:20 pm
(108) peter cole says:

i hate with all my heart the apostrophe. i also hate the comma. im sure commas are misused far more than the apostrophe. and the letter K – what do we need Ks for? i like Cs better and it’s far more useful. we should do away with those too. oh yeah and “too” is also unnecessary.

capitalization can go too.

i say do away with all the rules that cause grammatical errors. guess that’s the easiest way to be perfect. we could just do away with language completely and just grunt instead. we’d be able to figure out whats being said by the context. cavemen do that right?

September 26, 2007 at 8:34 pm
(109) Jen says:

You’ve got to be kidding! The apostrophe is one of the visual cues that helps my dyslexic children decipher the meaning of what they’re reading! If you don’t want to USE one, fine: don’t. But don’t blame me as a literate writer and English teacher if I mark your writing wrong. Of course I’m old-school! Because I am, I can speak to most people without sounding stupid. Part of that ability comes from having learned to use grammar and punctuation. I will not surrender the apostrophe.

September 26, 2007 at 10:52 pm
(110) hoody says:

The apostrophe is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL. It clarifies the meaning of so many things in the English language. Compare “Pikes Peak” to Pike’s Peak” for example. “Pikes Peak” signifies a peak with multiple pikes on it, whereas “Pike’s Peak” signifies a peak which is possessed by somebody called Pike. Completely different meanings. The English possessive requires the apostrophe to function properly: yes, it is possible to understand meaning from context, but don’t we want written English to be MORE accurate than spoken English? Remember that written English is used for many binding contracts and other legal agreements, and ridding it of the apostrophe would create to high a level of ambiguity for these purposes.

If the apostrophe were to be abolished we’d have to use French or even Chinese to write mission-critical contracts…

September 26, 2007 at 11:07 pm
(111) O'Grady says:

I’ve often thought of changing my name to “””””’” just to push a point that computers are not going to ruin my language.

September 27, 2007 at 3:11 am
(112) Keenan says:

I find it interesting that so many of the comments here think that just because someone is anti apostrophe that means they are uneducated. The article itself points out that there are some highly educated people out there who are in favor of getting rid of it. I myself am an Electrical Engineer working towards a masters degree in Computer Science. Does the fact that Im in favor of abolishment go so far as to completely negate the advanced training Ive had? In my comments so far on this site have I come across as slavering idiot? I know very well the rules of the english language, including the proper use of the apostrophe. So I ask: does misuse, or no use even, of the apostrophe really tell you so much about a persons education that you can make such a judgment? I say it doesnt.

September 27, 2007 at 5:01 am
(113) AJ says:

We might as well stop capitalizing the first word of every sentence and proper nouns, because the meanings and usages of those words can all be discerned from the context of the sentence. Let’s also get rid of pronouns altogether, using instead the proper names (also not capitalized) simply because we don’t want to have to figure out which pronoun to use. You know what else gets me mad? The semicolon! How do we use that punctuation mark? You know what? Nevermind, let’s ban it. Along with the tilde. ~ is on our keyboards, but we don’t even have a practical use in english for it. Or what about this backwards apostrophe: “`”? This argument is stupid, and punctuation marks are good as they are. Anyone arguing so adamantly against their continued use should spend more time focusing on Second Grade English and educating themselves on its proper use. I certainly hope these “advocates” don’t succeed.

September 27, 2007 at 9:18 am
(114) Jared says:

Wow. Do people really not have better things to do with their time? There are people starving all over the world, polution issues, etc and people spend their time trying to axe or save a punctuation mark… how lame, talk about uncool…

September 27, 2007 at 9:36 am
(115) Kevin says:

response to comment 114: Better things to do? I’m sitting at work taking a break from thinking about code. I’m not allowed to read an article and comment on it? Why is that lame Jared?

my own comment:
I’m intrigued that the article mentions taking it off the keyboard. That key and symbol also represents the single quote. And the single quote is a very important character in computer programming. So I don’t think we’re losing the “‘” character any time soon from the keyboard at least.

September 27, 2007 at 9:58 am
(116) Dave says:

The apostrophe is really useful, it’s quite important, it’s also massively abused, as is the humble hyphen so often used where it’s not meant to be… Oh and Sgt Pepper’s isn’t a rock album it’s pop, the Beatles could be accused of many things but certainly not rock and roll.

September 27, 2007 at 11:06 am
(117) ajksdfakj says:

alert(‘test’)

September 27, 2007 at 11:08 am
(118) asdfsadf says:

alert(‘foo’)

September 27, 2007 at 12:10 pm
(119) Erik says:

I believe the correct adjective is “apostrophic.”

September 27, 2007 at 12:36 pm
(120) Danial says:

well that is just stupid lets just slip any word in instead of any other word and ttry to guess what is being said, actually let’s just drop[ all forms of literary communication.

If you think the apostrophe sahould be dropped you’re not aware of what you are even saying. (ANd no one else will be either.

September 27, 2007 at 1:44 pm
(121) Sarah says:

Have we become so grammatically lazy? Wow. Apostrophes aren’t that hard.

September 27, 2007 at 2:01 pm
(122) Blair Portnoy says:

I live in Israel and teach English. Hebrew is a phonetic language and bears no capital letters (sorely neglected here in street signs and everywhere else) nor apostrophes. Israelis understand each other (don’t know about the outside world!) adequately, and even though I make it clear to my students that the apostrophe is a “historical notice that once there were letters here”, I believe that we can indeed do without them. Therefore, to the guillotine with the apostrophe…

September 27, 2007 at 4:35 pm
(123) Carolyn says:

I don’t understand our obsession with the apostrophe. Most people use it when it’s not necessary, especially with plural words. Although I wish the problem with its misuse would go away, abolishing it isn’t the solution. If we abolish the apostrophe, how will those who consistently misuse it get the message to discontinue its use? If they’re not paying attention to its proper usage, they certainly won’t pay attention to the fact that it went away.

September 28, 2007 at 12:15 am
(124) Mrs. O'Reilly says:

Keep it! I don’t want to change my name!!!

November 30, 2012 at 3:42 am
(125) Cameron says:

You know, this really agitates me. The kinds of people in my class who are for the abolition of the apostrophe also blatantly claim that “GLOBAL WARMING IS A MYTH!” and “EVOLUTION IS A LIE!” I want those people to have a hard life, not an easy one.

What about when Anita said:

“Long live the apostrophe! It’s deserving of its place in the dictionary.”

It would become:

“Long live the apostrophe! Its deserving of its place in the dictionary.”

It’s: It is.
Its: Plural.
Its:Possessive.

Would become:

Its: It is.
Its: Plural.
Its:Possessive.

How confusing would that be for the poor 5.5 billion other people in the world who do not yet understand English?

May 19, 2013 at 9:56 pm
(126) Julia says:

Damn right! The apostrophe is here and it is very important to our language. Though we have other languages that don’t use it, it still helps to define certain things in English. Keep the apostrophe!

January 18, 2014 at 1:52 pm
(127) Charles says:

The boy’s father … or the boys’ father … the apostrophe tells us whether there is one boy or several … the boys father gives us no clue.
Especially in plural constructions, the apostrophe is essential.

March 7, 2014 at 8:27 am
(128) Daniel says:

Its denotes possession, it’s is a contraction of it is. It’s wrong to remove the apostrophe from the language. The English language and its rights would be bastardised in removing it. If it causes confusion, then educate people. If they are too stupid to learn then remove the warning labels and natural selection will take course. They will all die from something stupid that they done, and then we won’t have the problem of stupid people getting confused by an apostrophe.

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