There's a property for sale in my neighbourhood that, according to the sign erected outside, offers "Penthouse living at it's best". I don't usually get too wound up about other people's crimes against apostrophes but this latest faux pas has been playing on my mind. I guess the gratuitous apostrophe is arguably the most indefensible.

The real estate agent's interior monologue must have gone vaguely like this: "Now, let me see. I don't know the correct use of the apostrophe but I'd like to use one anyway just to prove my ignorance on the subject. I will close my eyes and I will put one... here. Oh, yes, that looks just terrific." No, it doesn't.

This approach is all the more perplexing when it's just so easy to get these things right thanks to Google, our universal and ever helpful friend. There was a time when you could blame such misdemeanours on a substandard education or just plain stupidity.

Now the information is freely available online the only conclusion we can properly make is that some people simply don't care about matters that can wind others up like a spring. Clearly it's a combination of laziness and a slapdash attitude that results in signs that would make an English teacher despair.


And if my nine-year-old can instantly reel off the rules of apostrophe use then surely there's no excuse for grown-ups not to put in a little effort too. I can still recall when the rules of apostrophes became clear to me. Obviously a late learner, I was aged about 14 but it was an illuminating moment.

An apostrophe must be used in place of the missing letter(s) in the case of contractions such as in: it's, she's, he's, you're, don't, hadn't and so on. An apostrophe must also be used to indicate possession such as in: the man's house, the girl's dog, the girls' school and so on. However, apostrophes are never used in possessive pronouns such as his, hers, its or theirs. An apostrophe should not have been used in the real estate sign example mentioned earlier.

The Apostrophe Protection Society was established in 2001 with "the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark". Its website (which displays the endearing and kind of ironic tendency to overuse exclamation marks) catalogues poorly punctuated signage including: "Saturday's in July and August", "Styling by our Professional Stylist's", "Gents hair salon", "Kids favourites", "Put your idea's in this box", "Discounted selling fee's" and "Cars parked at Owners risk". Finally, let's not forget the unforgivable example beloved of retailers of compact discs and televisions: "CD's" and "TV's".

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