Use apostrophes correctly - or else.

Adam   Sat Mar 04, 2006 10:31 am GMT
If pupils don't use apostrophes correctly in their GCSE English exams then they'll have marks knocked off. This is to ensure that when the children become adults, they'll know how to use apostrophes correctly.

The Times March 04, 2006

Keeping apostrophe in its proper place is the educator's quest
By Tony Halpin, Education Editor

ABERRANT apostrophes could cost pupils a good pass at GCSE under plans to toughen the marking of punctuation. Teenagers would be required to punctuate accurately as part of new “functional” literacy tests.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the Government’s standards watchdog, intends to use the tests in a trial this year and to extend them nationally by 2009. Under guidelines out for consultation, no pupil would achieve a grade C in GCSE English without showing the ability to punctuate accurately.

The move could spell the beginning of the end for the so-called “greengrocer’s apostrophe” — with shop signs displaying the prices of “carrot’s” and “pear’s”.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has ordered the introduction of tests in “functional” English and mathematics for all pupils as part of reforms to raise basic literacy and numeracy skills. Employers have complained repeatedly that too many school-leavers lack acceptable standards. The crackdown on sloppy writing was welcomed by Lynne Truss, author of the bestselling book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. She told The Times Educational Supplement that she was “very happy” with the QCA’s reforms. “Correct punctuation and spelling does have a bearing on people’s success in life. So in a way it is not fair to tell pupils it is OK to make mistakes in exams,” she said.

But Bethan Marshall, a lecturer in English education at King’s College London, said it would be “absurd” to deny able pupils the results they deserved because of errors in punctuation. Ms Marshall, a spokeswoman for the London Association of Teachers of English, said: “People do make careless mistakes with the apostrophe. Are we saying that they should not pass these tests?”

The QCA conducted research in 1999 into the characteristics of students who achieved different grades in GCSE English. It found that the possessive apostrophe caused “universal difficulty”, with even students awarded A grades misusing it 50 per cent of the time. The report concluded that schools should devote “more systematic and regular attention over a period of time” to punctuation to iron out pupils’ mistakes.


1 We sell the finest banana's

2 Its a jolly holiday with Mary

3 The womens' ability is extraordinary

4 Were only here for the beer

5 The train has reached it's destination

(Scroll down for answers.)



1 We sell the finest bananas No need for the so-called greengrocer’s apostrophe as bananas is a plural, not a singular possessive (“of the banana”)

2 It’s a jolly holiday with Mary The apostrophe indicates the contraction of “it is”

3 The women’s ability is extraordinary The plural women adds ’s for the possessive (“of the women”)

4 We’re only here for the beer The apostrophe indicates the contraction of “we are”

5 The train has reached its destination Although a possessive, its takes no apostrophe. This is allegedly to avoid confusion — ah, the irony — with “it’s” meaning “it is”
C6043RS   Sat Mar 04, 2006 11:49 am GMT
Unlike most punctuation marks, the apostrophe is pretty well a pure spelling convention.

Given the confusion over its use, it might make more sense just to do away it completely.
Guest   Sat Mar 04, 2006 7:53 pm GMT
No, the apostrophe is used to disambiguate sentences. We couldn't do without it.
C6058AC   Sun Mar 05, 2006 1:12 pm GMT
"No, the apostrophe is used to disambiguate sentences. We couldn't do without it."

How is it then that we do fine without it when we speak?
Mxsmanic   Sun Mar 05, 2006 1:34 pm GMT
We don't do it when we speak. The spoken language contains many ambiguities that are avoided in the written language.
C6058AH   Sun Mar 05, 2006 2:06 pm GMT
Ive written this posting without using any apostrophes.

Although its probably odd to read, its still entirely legible and understandable.

After a certain period, I doubt wed miss the apostrophes presence at all.

To a generation of writers brought up without it, it wouldnt be an issue.
Jim   Mon Mar 06, 2006 12:05 am GMT

I'm afraid you haven't got a leg to stand on. Mxsmanic is right when he writes "The spoken language contains many ambiguities that are avoided in the written language." So it does but spoken language also has many means of avoiding ambiguity that are impossible with (ordinary) writing.

You, C6058AH, like many a spelling-reform protagonist seem to be making the mistake of assuming that written language need only be a means of recording speech. It is not. It is a means of conveying meaning. The existance of ambiguity can impede this. The post you've written may be "entirely legible and understandable." but that in no way proves that all sentences with missing apostrophes will be.
Geoff_One   Mon Mar 06, 2006 1:04 am GMT
In a previous message, I stated:

While on the subject of apostrophe S ('s) and S apostrophe (s'), you may find the following titbit amusing. Some years ago, in exams, there were some students who put the apostrophe above the S, hoping to be
marked correct no matter what the correct answer was.
Uriel   Mon Mar 06, 2006 6:36 am GMT
Our teachers were on to that crap. We were always told in no uncertain terms that any S so marked would earn us an automatic wrong answer.

Personally, I like my apostrophes, and I don't consider writing to be an unimportant adjunct to the spoken word. Punctuation counts!
C6064OR   Mon Mar 06, 2006 7:54 am GMT

My dear fellow, I am no "spelling-reform protagonist." Indeed, I couldn't give a fig about spelling reform.

However, it IS clear that the use of the apostrophe has caused grief and confusion to writers since its inception.

I merely suggest that, given the apostrophe's minimal utility to the written language, it might be better just to abandon the thing outright and make all our lives easier.

As to written versus spoken language, you fuss too much over ambiguities; I doubt a world without apostrophes would be any more ambiguous for the reader. The period/full stop, comma, colon, exclamation mark and their like are useful written devices which correspond closely to the pauses, intonation and stress used in the spoken language.

The apostrophe, on the other hand, corresponds to, and represents, NOTHING.
Jim   Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:20 am GMT

I never said that you were a spelling reformist. I only make the point that they use similar arguements. You are wrong to say that the apostrophy represents nothing. It, for example, represents the difference between "its" and "it's", that's something. A world without apostrophies would be more ambiguous. It might still be worth the ambiguity but the ambiguity will exist.
Damian in Edinburgh   Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:31 am GMT
Its essential to use apostrophe's correctly as the entire meaning of a sentence can well be misconstrue'd if that wee ' is misplace'd.
btw Adam: banana's are currently 29p a kilo at Sainsbury's. Thats great.

Of course the apostrophe is very important in written English and here in Scotland at least (which has a different education system from England) great emphahis is placed on teaching the correct form's....oops...forms.

Ruth Kelly? ha ha! :-(
Guest   Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:32 am GMT
its, it's; wont, won't; were, we're

It's used to represent possessives, to indicate the plural of a letter, to form works fine as it is. There's no need to abandon it.
Damian   Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:33 am GMT
Ooops....... its 79p a kilo........ 29p at end of day sell off. Thats a bargain.
C6064OS   Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:40 am GMT

"You are wrong to say that the apostrophy [sic] represents nothing. It, for example, represents the difference between 'its' and 'it's', that's something."

I've removed the apostrophe from "it's" in this sentence. Please point out the ambiguity:

If the bird did damage its left wing when it flew into the window, its going to be difficult to save it.