The English language would be better off without apostrophes, say some writers and academics. Apostrophes confuse people because they cannot hear them in speech, and they do not serve a useful grammatical function, it is said - and you can tell the meaning of "isnt", "arent", "doesnt", "wont", "cant" etc without them. Here are two sides of the argument.

Shaw was right - No need for apostrophes

By Wayne Shaw

A course devoted to the use of the apostrophe is due to start in Whanganui on Wednesday.

But what needs to happen is that we do away with the use of the apostrophe altogether.


Bernard Shaw, one of the greatest playwrights in the 20th century and a speaker and prolific writer for social reform, didn't see the need for them.

The Irish writer produced prefaces of between 60 and 100 pages to his works expressing the theme of his plays.

His great works include Mrs Warren's Profession, Pygmalion, Androcles and the Lion, St Joan, and Caesar and Cleopatra.

A number of other writings include What I Really Wrote About The War (1931), The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism (1928), and a short tract, The Unprotected Child and the Law (1923).

A quote from The Revolutionist's Handbook tells us: "There is only one golden rule and that is that there are no golden rules."

And anybody who read any of his works would not find an apostrophe in any of them.

That said, various later publishers have decided to reprint his books and include the apostrophes - though this is a straight denial of Bernard Shaw's original writings and wishes.

His idea to leave out all apostrophes was based initially on economic grounds as he saw it made a huge saving on printing costs.

Very few people seem to be aware of Bernard Shaw these days - the local Davis Library has only one volume of his prefaces and that's it. Not a play in sight, though Shakespeare has a few shelves devoted to him.

On his world tour in the 1930s, George Bernard Shaw visited New Zealand and this included a visit to Whanganui, where he was invited to a sporting event at Cooks Gardens - he declined, saying that he had little interest in war games.

He was more interested in the political system, the education system, the health system and in state housing that was available at the time, prompting him to say that New Zealand would be the best country to bring up children.

When one of Shaw's plays was performed in London, it became front-page news as audiences were appalled at the fact that a character performing on an English stage had sworn. The line was: "Not bloody likely", spoken by Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion.

In 1936, Bernard Shaw travelled to Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. It appears that, in more than 50 years of voluminous writings, the lack of apostrophes had not distracted anyone.

We can't neglect the apostrophe

By Margi Keys

The apostrophe is a versatile and essential punctuation mark without which written phrases and sentences make no sense. The whole point of writing is that one's ideas can be read and understood by other people, unless one just writes for oneself.

You don't want to annoy people with your writing, or distract them from reading the entire newspaper article you've spent so much time putting together. We write to inform, educate and entertain. Punctuation helps.

George Bernard Shaw may have received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936 but his spurning of apostrophes didn't rub off on many other Nobel Prize winners, thank goodness.

His habit may have saved printing costs, and he might've been one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, but time has proved the good old apostrophe is still considered to be a hallmark of intelligent writing.

Shaw was clearly a literary rebel and I appreciate the contribution rebels make to society. I am also grateful for his prolific body of work - especially his plays which I didn't have to read as I could simply enjoy the performances.

As educated folk know, the apostrophe may stand for the omission of numbers as in "back in the summer of '64" and letters ("won't" for will not, "it's" for it is or it has, "you're" for you are, "could've" for could have). "Your stupid" and "couldve" are idiotic ways of writing.

Unfortunately, Facebook is full of these idiocies - and as a Facebook addict, I despair.

The apostrophe also shows who or what belongs to whom, as in "Prince Charles's cup of tea is preferred black and weak".

"Nicola's two young sons are now rather famous in Whanganui, having been televised while speaking to their submission about the mobile library bus" is another possessive.

Knowing whether a possessor is singular or plural is important for readers to understand, so writers must know where to place the apostrophe.

"The little boys' mother was run over" means we're sorry for at least two boys.

Nobody will ever convince me that apostrophes are going out of fashion. Correctly placed, they add meaning and there's no confusion.