I’m an Apostrophe Geek. Again.

comma or apostrophe

Using it isn't hard!

I admit it — I love seeing language punctuated properly. But despite my post title, it’s not simply because I’m an Apostrophe Geek. Oh sure, I did post about this question once before — or, you know, maybe another time or two  — but it really does make a difference, and really does promote clear writing.

That’s why I was amused (and a little disturbed) at this recent article on Ragan.com: An apostrophe ban? Whats next? Much of Eileen Burmeister’s piece is written tongue in cheek, but she does have a great point. Just look at her example from the sign she saw at a local store:

we beat

all competitors

tire prices

Without an apostrophe, Burmeister points, out, you have three possible interpretations of what that word, “competitors,” signifies:

  1. The store is saying it actually beats up all competitors (assuming no apostrophe at all);
  2. It has only one competitor, and beats that dastardly rival’s prices (assuming an apostrophe before the “s”);
  3. It has many competitors and beats them all (assuming an apostrophe after the “s”).

In context, in this fairly simple example, we can guess that the right choice is #3. But think of two important things, about our complex language and such examples:

  1. Not everything we write is this simple, and sometimes the context gives no help when we have to guess
  2. And why should readers have to guess what the writer meant in the first place?

Why was punctuation invented at all? Why was grammar? It came about because we were getting pretty knowledgeable and were starting to say some pretty complicated things, since the world itself is complex. So if we want to communicate, and not have to keep saying to our readers, “No, that wasn’t what I meant at all,” or, “No, you missed my meaning entirely” — we need punctuation. We need good grammar.

This is not a matter of being old-fashioned or too picky or, heaven forfend, being an Apostrophe Geek. This is a matter of not just talking to the insides of our own heads. This is all about being able to say things to people in ways that will help them understand what we’re saying. What is the point of writing a single word, otherwise?

(And yes, I will not toot my own horn. Most apostrophe rules are pretty simple. So rather than trying to ban the apostrophe, as the town in that article did, why not just learn the simple rules? Download That Darned Apostrophe for free, and you’ll never use an apostrophe wrong again!)