Like other punctuation marks, the apostrophe’s job is to clarify meaning. But, as Lynne Truss in her popular book Eats, Shoots & Leaves (Profile Books, 2003) notes, it needs our help. The website of the Apostrophe Protection Society (yes, there really is one), under its Chairman, John Richards, gives examples of apostrophic wrongdoing and offers guidance. I thought I ought to do my bit too.
The wrongly-used apostrophe
Is like a weed. It is, you see,
Good punctuation, in this case
Appearing where it has no place.
You mustn’t think of them as cure-alls.
They can’t turn singulars to plurals:
As every well-read over-eight knows*
There should not be one in “potato’s”**.
You should develop this obsession:
An apostrophe denotes possession;
And also, you will find it fits
Where something’s missing, as in “it’s”.
(But rules like that can cast some doubt,
For “its” – possessive – goes without!)
Don’t let the weeds grow. Make a fuss
And, if in doubt, consult Lynne Truss . . .
* I wonder if this is true, these days?
** Unless it’s possessive, of course . . .