Magical Little Apostrophes


It’s awfully tiring being someone who cares about apostrophes. Every day I’m subjected to the completely, fluorescently, distressingly unnecessary symbol in ‘coffee’s’ and ‘tea’s’ and ‘fridge’s for sale’ (is it?), while also being forced to find a way to read ‘todays specials’ without reaching for my marker pen (I carry one in the handbag at all times, naturally). When you care about punctuation as I do, with the sort of smug, blood-boiling passion that can make you quite unlikeable if you don’t know how to pretend to be a normal person, going out of the house and into the modern world – oh, world, with your wild disregard for correctness – can be quite a challenge.


The thing I feel sorry for is the apostrophe itself. It’s a defenceless little curve, chucked into words and forced to hang there, publicly shamed for eternity. It knows it’s in the wrong place. It knows. It calls out to people like me. We don’t seek out the misused apostrophe; it seeks us out. It radiates its own misplacement. When you’re on the perpetual receiving end of that (I think of myself as sort of electromagnetically sensitive to punctuation) it’s as though little glow worms hover about you, drawing your eyes to them in the hope that you’ll alert their abuser and start a rescue mission.

So, when you think about it, I don’t have much of a choice in how I respond. The magical little apostrophe is a victim that needs my amnesty. Whether this means having a quiet word with the owner of the cafe at which ‘juice’s’ are being served, or deploying a guerrilla apostrophe-inserting tactic (carry a variety of pens, particularly a strong marker that can tackle laminated menus), this is, frankly, a social responsibility.

Some adopt children; some take extra steps to look after the environment; I consider it my calling, my civic duty, to watch out for magical little apostrophe and his friends (the comma, the colon and the gang; more on them another time). He’s such an elegant, useful, logical character. It is utterly cruel to plonk him where he’s not required; he has so much work to do elsewhere.

Also, before you draw the conclusion that I’m an apostrophe-hugging hippy, I just have to say this: using apostrophes wrongly is stupid. It’s not very hard to learn the rules. The world needs to get a grip. The Bristol harbourside cafe I patronised today for a late morning cappuccino is unspeakably stupid about apostrophes. They were everywhere they weren’t meant to be. It was troubling; it almost ruined my coffee. I was surrounded by my needy little glow worms, longing to be redistributed in a logical, non-moronic way.

‘Pannini’s’. ‘Cappuccino’s’. ‘Sandwiche’s’. It was relentless. An inky onslaught. Those little curves huffed and puffed to be released. I wanted to do something, but the task was too enormous. And there was only a very sheepish girl making the coffee; I feared my strong views on grammar would yield nothing more than a whimper. You have to think very carefully about how to conduct the rescue: always target a manager, the highest order in the chain of abuse.

I’m your resident grammarian. I’ll be on the look-out for linguistic malpractice, flying the flag for the logical beauty of correctly deployed punctuation. I’ll be noticing the stupidity that surrounds us, and writing strongly worded corrections and complaints so that you don’t have to. And don’t worry about the magical little apostrophe. I’ve got his back.



  1. Ethelwyn Osborne on

    Brilliant! loved the article, keep them coming, oh God, I am scared to use one now! How about the poor misunderstood little letter H or Haitch as it seems to be known these days, even on the Beeb. That surely warrants a bit of TLC

  2. Your so right, Maddie! 😉

    That’s my pet hate right there, the unappreciated ‘replaced letter’ apostrophe. If I get one more email like that…It’s “you’re”, damn it! It replaces the ‘a’ in “you are”!

  3. Roy Daughtree on

    Youve bean brung up write! It IS good to see someone else besides the Pedant cares about your English language – I will not try some okker strine (Australian) on you! Anyway, what we need to do now is correct English “governmentese” in their forms. “When did this person last work for you? How long did THEY work for you?” “Does your wife live with you? If not, when did THEY leave?”.

    Keep up the good work, Maddie.

  4. Sad abuse of apostrophe in the example shown. but at least they managed to use the word ‘comprising’ without the common error of adding ‘of’…!

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