grammar, the apostrophe and me

The title gives it away, right? I’m a grammar liberal, not a conservative. I prefer my sentences to sound more like talk. In my book(s), even academic writing can break syntactical rules sometimes. It’s all in the interests of readability and style, you understand.

So I don’t object to starting a sentence with a conjunction.

Sentence fragments don’t phase me. At all. As long as they’re not overused, I can deal with them.

I’m quite partial to ending a sentence with with or to. That way, I don’t sound as if I’m recreating a Victorian novel or an Act of Parliament. The students I work with often write in this way too, and occasionally I fear that they may not actually learn that it matters from whom they learn the rules that I don’t follow.

And I really am quite attached to the split infinitive. It pleases me no end that many contemporary academic publishers choose to boldly venture into more contentious contemporary modes of expression, rather than choosing to stick rigidly to more ‘correct’ usage.

Using a singular verb for ‘data’ and a plural verb with ‘staff’ just sounds better to me, but I’m prepared to compromise here for the sake of peace and quiet.

But I’m at a stage in my career where I’ve decided not to submit to those peer-reviewed journals whose editorial Death Eaters apply the multiple rules of APA – that stands for Academic Pedantry Association – to my writing. I’ve been there, and my colleague Barbara and I still have the evidence – a page and a half of the APA ‘violations’ (sic) we made. It was lexical dispute after colloquial difference right up until the time the paper went to press.

However, everyone has their breaking point. Inside every grammar liberal lives a grammarnazi. My transmogrification comes from the use and abuse of the apostrophe.

I’ve just reviewed a load of papers in which a rather shocking number of people didn’t seem to know how to use the apostrophe. Plural noun after plural noun had one, while abbreviated verbs didn’t. As for the possessive – well, it was just random. After the first hour of irritation, I became numb. It was literally a case of me becoming comatose about the comma toss.

Judy Horacek has it right in her wonderful cartoon of Apostrophe Man. She’s invented a superhero who confiscates the chalk from every restaurant and fruit and veg shop owner who writes Meal’s and Apple’s and Special’s.

If only I had an Apostrophe Man.

So what is to be done about apostrophe abominations? Learning three different language rules just seems to be too much for some people. Maybe the answer is what I used to teach struggling readers… Spell check usually picks up the verb abbreviations. After that, it’s better to sin by omission than clutter up the text with apostrophes in the hope that one of them might be right.

Hey apostrophe sinners, try this next time – #ifindoubtleaveitout.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, APA, apostrophe, grammar and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to grammar, the apostrophe and me

  1. maisaahmed says:

    your students are so LUCKY to have you as a supervisor…Thanks for supervising the rest of us with your great blog.


  2. Kathryn says:

    Oh such wise words every Monday morning. I so agree with the over protective and sometimes unattractive way you are made to feel when the reader has one opinion on your writing style and therefore use of grammar, although no excuse for bad SPaG. Someone I worked with once told me how great my work was but a pity I kept splitting my infinitives! To someone who is dyslexic it makes you feel in more inadequate on your writing ability so good to hear even Pat gets ruffled


  3. Delia says:

    Hello Pat. Hope you are doing well. I was wondering if there any particular books on grammar that you would recommend for academic writers. I would greatly appreciate if you can share the titles of the books which you think may be useful.


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