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Dear Apostrophe (A Love Letter)

You and I have come a long way together. We began our collaboration some 25 years ago, when you'd regularly forgive my crayoned abuse of your good nature. Then, we became allies: just you and me, against the world, using permanent marker to 'correct' the punctuation on signs proclaiming Ladies Room.
And now, as the rest of the world conspires to neglect you or violate you, I hope you'll accept this token of my love, understanding and undying support.

For starters, Apostrophe, I get you. I know that you're not all things to all people. You can't be used creatively. You can't be manipulated to fashion effect or emphasis. You can't be plugged in impulsively where people think you 'look nice'. You're not over-sensitive (unlike the semi-colon) - you're just a simple creature with simple needs and two key contributions to the English language:

1. You make our language sound and look more natural (contraction).

Darling Apostrophe, the fact that global English has evolved to accommodate a more natural, more engaging turn of phrase, is partially down to you. Because you're the chief protagonist of contraction - in short, phrasal shrinkage.

I appreciate that, like a good diuretic, you're able to help us to pare down chubby phrases, removing a couple of letters along the way, and making the whole construction more streamlined and more 'speakable'. Some examples:

  • I am -> I'm
  • Cash and Carry -> Cash 'n Carry
  • It is -> it's
  • Do not -> don't

I applaud you, Apostrophe, for your unapologetic indication that the letters a, a-d, i and o have been shaved - contracted - from the above four examples.

2. You create relationships between people and things (possession).

Apostrophe, my friend, I see how you build bridges between people and other people (the boss's mistress) and people and stuff (the mistress's Louboutins). You clarify what belongs to whom, and how many whos there are (if there are several mistresses, and they all have Louboutins, it's the mistresses' Louboutins).

I commend your courage under fire, when it comes to forcing the subject of the phrase or clause to take ownership, as in the following helpful examples:

  • The decision of the committee -> the committee's decision
  • The CEO of the organisation -> the organisation's CEO
  • Fans of Bizcommunity -> Bizcommunity's fans
  • The many obsessions of Ms Markman -> Ms Markman's many obsessions

Finally, Apostrophe, I admire your brave refusal - amidst all of your hard work - to be cowed by the shameful title That Thingy That Looks Like A Lifted-Up Comma.


Unlike some of my comrades, I know you well enough to know that you don't attach yourself to nouns to make them plural. You're more subtle than that.

You're like a vegan at a braai: mostly ignored, largely misunderstood and usually stuck in the wrong place in frantic desperation, like next to the lamb's on the spit.

Apostrophe, I know that, if it's not contraction or possession I'm after, I don't need you. I should just take a breath and stick the s on: BMWs, photos, 1990s.

My blessing for you, into the future, is that English-users exercise more restraint; that they take the time to ask, 'Am I shortening words or phrases? No. Am I showing possession or belonging? No. Right: no apostrophe.' In the interim, I intend to broadcast your message - and my admiration - as widely as possible.

Your #1 Fan,

About Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman is a highly opinionated copywriter, copy editor and writing trainer who has worked for over 300 clients worldwide. She hates misplaced apostrophes, old-fashioned business writing and the word ‘revert'. She loves generous paragraphing, art, skulls and black coffee. Read more at, email , follow @tiffanymarkman on Twitter and sign up for her newsletter.
Tim Pinder
Tiffany, thank you for trying to preserve the English language in South Africa. I wholeheartedly applaud your efforts.The thing that desperately requires saving is the 'ARE'. How many times have I heard 'We going to the Mall'? Or 'We going to buy a second hand car'. Aggghh, it offends my ears nearly as much as Naas Botha's 'quite a couple of tries'! Which I hear other, apparently intelligent people, repeat regularly. English Police, get out and make it stop before my ears bleed to death. Please!
Posted on 19 Oct 2012 11:43
caroline hurry
Great stuff Tiffany. Hear! Hear!
Posted on 19 Oct 2012 13:26
Jennifer Duncan
The worst thing about the apostrophe is that you end up doubting yourself. When absolutely everyone writes "enjoy music from the 60's" it feels somewhat churlish to be the only one to whom this is important. My personal bete noire is its and it's. It's a battle I'm intent on winning, even though mentioning its importance makes me sound like a crazy person.
Posted on 19 Oct 2012 18:35
Mariano Castrillon
You forgot my favourite : making plurals by adding apostrophe s. to a noun . For instance : potato's, photo's and many, many other insulting examples.
Posted on 20 Oct 2012 10:17
Ann Druce
And the misplaced apostrophe in it's when used to denote possession.
Posted on 22 Oct 2012 14:24
Bob Lewis
What small little complaints you all have!
Posted on 25 Oct 2012 14:23
Angela Horn
Brilliant read...thank's...err...thanks...I'm off to share!
Posted on 1 Nov 2012 09:32
Saskia Busch
Tiffany, just two rules and now we all know how to use it! Finally! Thank you.Your writing scintillates!
Posted on 13 Nov 2012 13:34
Lin Helme
Love it - I am the anal one in my office who likes to check everything before it goes out into the world - but the time it takes!! The worst culprit is the education department, where is my red pen?
Posted on 16 Jan 2013 09:37