Sunday, January 4, 2009

Apostrophe overstock

Lots of things are overstocked these days and apostrophes seem to be one of them. I say that because I'm seeing apostrophes on ads, posters, billboards and all sorts of marketing materials where they don't belong. I started doing some research, only to find this is such a prevalent error, there are entire blogs devoted to it. There are only a few uses for apostrophes and I thought they were pretty simple to remember. After all, we all learned them in elementary school. There are even a few instances where I understand some confusion, but these are not the instances where I'm seeing mistakes. I'm seeing mistakes like, "Come see the big boy's of the sea." I sincerely hope you can see what's wrong with that. So, just for the record, I'll take us back to third grade so we know where our apostrophes go.

Use apostrophes to show ownership.
CORRECT: Bob's dog ate the steak. CORRECT: The children's toys are all over the place.

DON'T use apostrophes with possessive pronouns.
CORRECT: The dog wants its bone. INCORRECT: The dog wants it's bone.

Use apostrophes to form contractions and signal missing letters.
CORRECT: It's about three o'clock. (This means "It is about three o'clock.") INCORRECT: Its about three o'clock.

The most common mistake I keep seeing
DON'T use apostrophes to make plurals of nouns.
CORRECT: Cats make great pets. INCORRECT: Cat's make great pets. (this means "Cat is make great pets")

These are the most important apostrophe rules to remember. There are a few circumstances where apostrophe use is incorrect or debatable that I at least understand. One of these is using apostrophes after numbers-
ex. The 1960's were a time of great change. (incorrect) ex. The 1960s were a time of great change. (correct)

I also understand people using apostrophes to pluralize acronyms, even though this is technically incorrect.
ex. There were three M.D.'s in my graduating class. (incorrect) ex. There were three M.D.s in my graduating class. (correct) ex. The AE's lost it when they got the new time line. (incorrect) ex. The AEs lost it when they got the new time line. (correct)

I don't know how these mistakes, most of all the one in red above, make it through writers, creative directors, agency owners and any number of levels of client eyes. The pluralization of nouns rule above is not even debatable. It's flat wrong. Yet, I've seen it on billboards, collateral, ads and more. I just beg everyone to review your materials and keep atrocious errors like this out of your work. There are English majors and copywriters the world over who cringe every day because of them, especially when they're as obvious as this.

P.S. Why robots won't take over the world.

Even as I type this entry, I'm reminded of how dangerous it is to rely on spell-checking and auto-correcting software, as words that I'm typing (and know for a fact are correct, verified by multiple reputable sources) are tagged as incorrect. Don't rely on them. They will give you the wrong form of a word, make it plural when it should be singular or fail to recognize real worlds while recognizing brand names. I suppose it's one more reason robots will never take over all professions- even with all their formulas, they still can't comprehend something as basic to humans as written language.

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