The Correct Use of Apostrophes

This entry was posted Tuesday, 22 March, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Over the years, as I’ve taught more and more grammar, I have become aware of how many incorrect uses of the very basics there are out there. What shocks me is that a lot of these errors are not only basic, but they occur in advertising, on product labels, in prominent places, and are propagated by people and companies that can afford to pay for professional copywriting.

The other day, I saw a Victoria’s Secret ad on TV that proclaimed (in text) that “There’s five ways…” (can’t remember the rest of the text). Now, there are three main rules to remember with apostrophe use:

1. Apostrophes are used to indicate possession/ownership of something. e.g. The boss’s signature (you can choose to leave out the second ‘s’ and just have The boss’ signature) or Victoria’s Secret (indicating it is the secret of Victoria).

2. They are also used to show contraction i.e. when you condense two words into one, for eases sake, the apostrophe replaces what is missing e.g can’t = can not; it’s = it is (compare to its – e.g. its appearance. This shows possession.)

3. They can never be used to indicate plurals. e.g. 100’s of people is incorrect. 100s of people is correct. Some people say you can use ‘s when you have a single letter word, e.g.” There are two m’s in accommodate”, but I prefer not to do this, and eliminate the apostrophe.

So back to the Victoria’s Secret ad… There’s five ways… = There is five ways…. which is grammatically incorrect. There ARE five ways is correct. Somehow, they seem to have confused contraction with possession, which to me is unforgivable if you are going to spend thousands of dollars on an ad campaign. I have also noticed countless times where apostrophes have been used (incorrectly) to show plurals. I can’t remember the exact wording, but I remember spotting a mistake on the label of a water bottle when I was in South Africa recently. Again, if you are going to spend money on labelling and marketing a product, get it right! And hire someone who knows what he or she is doing. Like Meerkat Communications 🙂


PS – For a humourous (but correct) take on the rules for apostrophe use, see my favourite online genius, The Oatmeal.

PPS – If you are going to comment on my spelling, for example, of humourous, remember, I am not American 🙂

3 Comments to The Correct Use of Apostrophes

  1. Five Rules for Correct Comma Use | Meerkat Communications says:

    April 4th, 2011 at 12:47 pm

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  2. Łukasz says:

    May 23rd, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Regarding the example «There’s five ways…», where the existential “there’s” (or “there is”) is followed by a plural argument, the contraction is definitely not a confusion of the English possessive “s”. Instead, it is an innovation in the grammar structure of English. While historically the existential verb and the following argument are a verb–subject pair and as such require agreement (i.e. «There are five ways…», cf. «There is one way…»), the innovation is such that the existential verb can be viewed as impersonal, and the verb–subject structure is no longer there. Such existential phrases exist as impersonal phrases in many languages around the world (e.g. French «Il y a cinq façons…»). English may be changing its, too!

  3. admin says:

    May 24th, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for the comment and input. While I agree that English is evolving and changing/adapting, I am not wholly convinced that the makers of that ad were using the existential ver consciously… but I’ll never know.


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