To me, English without apostrophes would be like race cars without seat belts – absolutely crazy. And deadly.
And yet there’s a movement dedicated to banishing them from the language forever.
Seriously. There’s the bluntly named website Kill the Apostrophe, and some high-profile think pieces from professional linguists such as James Harbeck, who argues that English “would be better off” without the tricky little punctuation mark.
But they might not need to kill the apostrophe – it may die of manslaughter first.
Evidence can be seen on a daily basis on your Facebook feed. Here are a few examples of my (least) favorite type of error:
Not even celebrity Twitter accounts are immune:
And here’s a cringe-worthy example of the error on public signage:
Before we go any further, you should know that you never, ever need to pluralize a noun with an apostrophe. The punctuation is used strictly for contractions (when you make two words into one) and possessives (i.e. "The tree's leaves are green."). Here's a handy guide for reference.
Despite these rather strict rules, “rogue apostrophes” (and other appalling misuses of the punctuation) are everywhere. And that’s exactly one of the reasons the anti-apostrophe crowd wants to get rid of them.
Do they have a point?
As Kill the Apostrophe somewhat rightly points out, the punctuation “serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to confuse those who dont” (sic).
Further, the website says, “apostrophes are redundant,” and “the number of cases where they make a semantic difference is absolutely minuscule.”
In other words, they don’t make the meaning of our writing any clearer, because the context of that writing is all that’s needed for clarity, the argument goes.
So what’s the verdict?
It’s difficult, even for a grizzled old grammar cop like me, to deny that the haters have some good points.
But if the decision were mine (and sadly, it isn’t), I’d let the apostrophe live – even if we have to scale back its use a bit (and this article includes a decent proposal for how to do so).
If we take away the apostrophe, we take away from our complex, complicated language a certain art. In this copy editor’s opinion, the apostrophe helps us sort out the puzzles of our grammar, and gives the reader’s eye a much-needed rest navigating the clutter.
And aesthetically speaking, a paragraph full of contractions but no apostrophes would be a hopelessly ugly thing. So maybe it’s worth considering that we just need to do a better job teaching people how to use it.
But if the apostrophe does go away, at least we wont have to see sentence's like this anymore.
This is the first edition of our new writing-themed column, InstaGrammar. Next time, we'll be looking at the mysterious hyphen.