“From Belgium with Love” begins the Stella Artois story. It’s “a Belgian tradition since 1366, perfected in nine steps and served in one chalice.” Ah, but were you to sit down to enjoy a glass of Stella underneath this sign …
There! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … Grammar Man!
The Case of Apostrophe Apostasy
Grammar Man has a confession: This one drives him bonkers! It’s likely the most frequent grammar gaffe–confusion over when to use an apostrophe and when to refrain.
Let’s strip it back, shall we? The apostrophe is primarily used for two reasons: (1) to replace missing letters in a contraction, and (2) to note possession. In the first word of this paragraph you see an example of the first use–contraction. Let’s is short for Let us. You could remove the contraction and begin, Let us strip it back, shall we? The apostrophe in the contraction replaces the missing letters, in this case a space and a U. With that in mind, take another look at the Stella sign. Sans contraction, it reads: Perfection Has It Is Price. Uh … could drive a grammarian to drink!
Ah, but you say, ‘Not so fast, Grammar Man!’ That second use–possession–doesn’t the It in that advertisement refer back to Perfection and therefore demonstrate possession? Sort of.
There is a standard practice rule concerning the use of the apostrophe as a possessive when using the word it and that rule is DON’T DO IT! EVER! (Did Grammar Man say that loud enough?) The rule exists to avoid confusion because its and it’s mean two very different things. Were the sign to read Perfection’s Price, that would be fine. But because it reads Perfection Has Its Price, there should be no apostrophe. No apostrophe!
Now you will also see this misapplied apostrophe in all sorts of other places. There is a restaurant in town that has a sign that reads Restroom’s above the entrance to the lavatories. There is a bakery with a menu on the wall that features Pie’s and Pastry’s. So let’s (another proper contraction use) be clear: Apostrophes are not used to make words plural. Restrooms is the plural or restroom; pies the plural of pie. And pastries the plural of pastry–yeah, I know, the beetle-eared knaves even missed the old ‘drop the Y and add IE’ rule. ‘Tis true, a Grammar hero’s (another proper use of an apostrophe) work will never be done in this culture. So when you see a grammarian fighting for right—buy him a Stella.
Have you come across any grammar gaffes in your travels this week?