73 – Grammar shot: ‘Greengrocer’s apostrophe’

I keep meaning to entertain you with another frolic, but the serious stuff keeps getting in the way. I’m currently having a whale of a time writing a grammar book – albeit one which pays particular attention to usage. The book will be aimed at a non-specialist audience, and I’m trying my damnedest to make it as accessible as possible. I have just written a short usage tip on an error referred to as the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’. Even if you are not familiar with the label, you are likely to have come across the error itself. What is interesting is that, although the blunder is attributed to poor greengrocers, even educated folk stumble. I have thus illustrated this section with authentic examples taken from rather unexpected sources, and it is learning who the perpetrators are that will probably be of the greatest interest to readers. Then again, I might be wrong – what do you think? Here comes my piece.

 

Since the plural forms of nouns do not incorporate the apostrophe, those who use it with regular (i.e. s) plurals make a relatively common error referred to as the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’. The name of this mistake reflects the frequency with which such wrongly spelt plurals advertise produce – especially fruit and vegetables – sold in shops. Examples include: *apple’s for apples, *pear’s for pears, *carrot’s for carrots, *orange’s for oranges, etc.

REMEMBER

We do not use the apostrophe with the plural forms of nouns in the common case.

The six examples below illustrate the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ erroneously used by educated adults, the final one being particularly striking.

“Czech schools offer secondary education in a range of vocational *specialisation’s [SPECIALISATIONS].” (British government department)

“The body has responsibilities ranging from the *under-five’s [UNDER-FIVES] to higher level vocational qualifications.” (British government department)

“Almost half of all *traveller’s [TRAVELLERS] suffer diarrhoea.” (The Sunday Times)

“She is one of the class *teacher’s [TEACHERS] under the microscope.” (The Independent)

“Our *youngster’s [YOUNGSTERS] will benefit greatly.” (An election campaign leaflet by a British Member of Parliament)

“All national governing *body’s [BODIES] encourage safety.” (An examination syllabus produced by a major British examination board)

PS

I have just added my little greengrocer’s apostrophe verse, which can be found also under my English-related ditties.

 Yesterday, I saw an ad

Which was really, really bad;

I stood gawping in a trance:

“Car valeting – cars and van’s”!

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8 thoughts on “73 – Grammar shot: ‘Greengrocer’s apostrophe’

  1. I did not think these type of apostrophes would be so confusing for people and like you mention the examples of government boards and all. The hard ones for me, sometimes, are the plural possessive nouns. And I have to think twice or three or four times that the possessive ” its ” does not get an apostrophe, only if you are saying the contraction for it is, it’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are spot on again, Deborah: it’s incredible that even educated people make this error. And you are right again about the plural possessives of some nouns being troublesome – particularly the irregular ones (*“peoples’” – incorrect versus “people’s” – correct; *“childrens’” – incorrect versus “children’s” – correct). The confusion between “its” and “it’s” is a classic, of course. Thank you for another insightful comment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Some days I believe there is no hope 🙂

    I have a photo of two shops in the next village who have used the grocer’s apostrophe in their large, bold shop-front signage. I cringe every time I drive past them and so far have resisted the temptation to go in and correct them.

    What really gets me is how many sign companies do not proofread. They, at least, should be able to use grammar correctly, even if the grocers don’t… grocer’s dont’… um

    Liked by 1 person

    • Couldn’t agree more, Jennie, but maybe, just maybe, there is a ray of hope: there are a lot of people out there who care (such as you). And grammar has finally regained its rightful place on the school curriculum. Granted, it will take time, but I am hopeful. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In my opinion, the apostrophe is the most abused punctuation in the history of English. A few years back I had started compiling examples of cringe-worthy usage of the apostrophe. In fact, I ran classes in a big company I used to work for at that time, just to get people using apostrophe correctly.

    Like

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