Apostrophes: Life or Death?

Earlier in the week I came across this article stating reasons why the English language would be better off without the apostrophe. To say that it annoyed me would be putting it mildly. I ended up shrieking and looking a bit like this bear:


Anyway, the apostrophe. Poor little thing. It’s come under a lot of fire recently regarding whether we actually need it, since only a small amount of the population seem to actually know how to use it and a lot of the time it gets ignored. One of the most notable incidents in this argument is Waterstone’s bookstore dropping their apostrophe on account of, according to BBC News, making a ‘more versatile and practical spelling of the name.’ I’m sorry, but I fail to see how ditching grammar makes a word more either of those things. If it’s correct with the apostrophe then that’s how it should be, getting rid of it doesn’t make it better!

Plus I find it ironic how they sell books and yet their name is now grammatically incorrect. Surely they should be promoting good writing skills? Don’t get me wrong, I love Waterstone’s. I just now have a little less respect for them! And I will continue to write their name with the apostrophe because I an stubborn (and it makes me feel sick not to).

Can still be understood, but grates on my inner editor. Image from The Guardian.

To me, some of the reasons listed in the article against the apostrophe don’t make much sense. Or are just ridiculous, namely the final one which is ‘you’ll type faster.’ Just…. what?! And apparently that’s the ‘only significant result.’ If that’s it then is it worth it? What about other punctuation, surely that is slowing us down as well? Maybe we should just do away with the lot of it? The thought of people writing then suddenly looking at their watches and going ‘oh, I’ll never finish this work on time, I must stop using apostrophes at once!’ is insane. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little but still, the implication is there.

Another point raised is that even without the apostrophe you will still know what the writer means. This may be so in some cases, but if you take the apostrophe out of ‘we’ll’ or ‘we’re’ then you get ‘well’ and ‘were’ which are words in their own right and mean completely different things to the contractions. Plus lots of people tend to use ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ these days, especially on social networking sites. If the apostrophe was no longer used then this probably would become more common. Would this change the meaning of ‘your’ to encompass it’s proper possessive use and also ‘you are?’ That would be some great evidence for Language Decay.

Apostrophes can’t be that hard, even dogs know how to use them!

As for the notion that they don’t add anything useful, well if they didn’t then why would we have them in the first place? Possessives are useful. If not for the apostrophe it wouldn’t always be immediately obvious whether something is plural or belonging to someone or something. Like with the ‘we’re/we’ll’ business, re-reading would be necessary in order to grasp the meaning of sentences. So maybe we would type faster, but that saved time would have to be used on extra reading!

Any of my writer friends will tell you that I’m a complete grammar freak. As soon as my red pen comes out they shrink back in fear. So I may be biased in this argument, but I see it like this: not every member of the English speaking world chooses to utilise correct grammar, which is a shame but fair enough. But that doesn’t mean we should compromise the language to accommodate them. If rules are there then they have a meaning and should be acknowledged, whether they are understood or not. All languages have their little quirks which is what makes them unique, and the apostrophe is one of ours. English would not be the same without it.

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Amelia Starling is a writer and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and is Senior Editor for Folklore Thursday. She loves travelling and collecting stories, and spent 15 months living in Japan doing this alongside teaching English. Amelia blogs about folklore and fairy tales at The Willow Web. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize.

4 thoughts on “Apostrophes: Life or Death?

  1. Thanks, and at least you're still using them! I'm sure apostrophes will be grateful to you. Also glad the bear had the desired effect, I personally wouldn't want to encounter it in a dark alley!

  2. I've got to admit I kinda rely on word to tell me if there should be an apostrophe, I'm sorry. Also quite frankly that bear is terrifying. Great post though I will be more considerate to our grammatical friend in the future.

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