Nov 192016
 

Sometime in the last 10 to 15 years, a horrible plague started reaching critical mass. What plague is that? The plague of people who for some reason have lost the ability to understand one of the very simplest rules of grammar ever, which is that you form the plural of a word by—in general—just adding an S to the end of said word.

For example, one cat, two or more cats.  I ate some apples.

So what are grocers’ apostrophes, you ask? Well, grocers’ apostrophes would be when you want to talk about more than one apostrophe and you, in a fit of stupendous idiocy, write about the apostrophe’s you are interested in talking about.

Yes, there are actually people out there who think you form the plural by adding –‘s to the end of the word you want to make plural. But as anyone with a Grade 4 education should know, using apostrophe-S at the end of a word is how you form the possessive, not the plural.

As in, what is Kalev‘s biggest grammar pet peeve? That is, the pet peeve that belongs to Kalev.1

Apparently this started with grocers, hence the name, who would handwrite signs such as Apple’s 1/-2 a pound or Orange’s 1/63 a pound. I’m not sure it’s really fair to blame grocers for this but at least it’s a distinctive name.

It’s slightly forgivable when people do it for decades in numeral form or to make abbreviations plural. You have definitely seen, and have probably written yourself, the following:

  • the 1970’s, with few exceptions, were just horrible in terms of fashion
  • I used to love living in Vancouver because we had the cheapest CD’s in Canada or the US
  • It’s crazy how quickly DVD’s are becoming obsolete

In the case of acronyms, people want to indicate that the terminal S that forms the plural isn’t actually part of the acronym itself. In the case of decades, I guess the apostrophe is there because people feel weird about having letters and numbers in the same string of characters?

Of course, in all but a few cases, acronyms are generally written all uppercase, and in 2016, when things like “the iPhone 4S, 5S, 6S, and 7S” are commonplace, I don’t think we have to feel self-conscious about having numbers and letters “touching.” So really, all that should be written:

  • the 1970s, with few exceptions, were just horrible in terms of fashion
  • I used to love living in Vancouver because we had the cheapest CDs in Canada or the US
  • It’s crazy how quickly DVDs are becoming obsolete

Just as readable, and no worries that someone might think you are talking about the DVD’s cover (the cover belonging to the DVD), or the DVDs’ covers (the covers belonging to the DVDs), etc.

But honestly, it is SHOCKING how frequently you will see this now. I have to beat the habit out of my co-op students, who are (arguably) fairly highly-educated people. And it’s not just “the young’uns:” I see it from people my age and up, too. When people don’t know weird grammar things —like if they mess up the possessive form of “it” and write it as “it’s”4 or they don’t use the subjunctive—I can be forgiving because at least they are messing up things that are increasingly rare (proper use of the subjunctive) or a fairly huge exception to how things are usually done (the possessive form of “it”). But forming the plural in English is DEAD SIMPLE: you add an S. That’s it. So if people are trying to form the plural by adding apostrophe-S, they are actually making things more complicated/longer to write. Also, I’d love to see how they write about the kittens’ mother or the kids’ parents if they’re using this mistaken method.

You see this error EVERY. DAY.

Case in point:

(There are many other problems with this ad but it’s a great example of the case in point.)

And then there’s this one, which nearly caused me actual pain when I saw it:

img_2156

So the moral of this story is: forming the plural in English is easy and has nothing to do with apostrophes. Don’t make something that is simple into something more complicated.

  1. That is a meta-rhetorical question, in case you were wondering. ? []
  2. that’s one shilling []
  3. one shilling sixpence []
  4. which is the contraction “it is”—what they should have written is “its” and that’s the most common exception to the standard way of forming the possessive so it’s understandable people screw that one up []

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