The Disappearing Apostrophe

In my linguistics class this past spring we discussed the disappearing apostrophe. Based on its lack of proper implementation in projected songs at church, announcements, and billboards, as well as in multiple iterations of student papers, I posited an official termination of the apostrophe to show possession within fifty years. Perhaps, had English a college (governing board which decides what is correct) like many other languages do, it would disappear sooner.

Based on the number of missing possessive markers in the last two paper sets I have graded in all my freshman and sophomore papers, the fifty years may have been too generous of a timeline.

Even after direction from me on where to go to learn about possessives (but not actual instruction as I forgot I had planned it), students failed to wield apostrophes or only threw them helter-skelter into their papers wherever an -s ending appeared.

2 thoughts on “The Disappearing Apostrophe”

  1. Here’s an idea you may not have thought of: Hire competent English teachers in Jr. High and High schools. I mean the kind of teacher who will stress English grammar, spelling and punctuation.

    Instead of simply throwing in the towel (or out the apostrophe), require that students’ papers show correct usage. English is, admittedly, a complicated language; but there are rules, exceptions, helpful mnemonics and perhaps the kindest addition: possessive pronouns which, because they’re already possessive, do not require an apostrophe. This seems absolutely confounding to today’s bloggers.

    Its and it’s probably are the most frequently switched, but it is so annoying to see plurals with apostrophes tossed in, hither and yon. You said all this, but you seem to be giving up instead of fighting for proper, correct English. Shouldn’t you be in favor of correctness?

    Spelling, too, is lackadaisical. The time to reach for the dictionary is when there are more than two letters preceding the apostrophe. If so, it’s probably wrong. More than one hero? Hero’s? Try heroes. It’s in the dictionary right after hero.

    We had to diagram sentences, too, in 9th, 10th and 11th grades. It wasn’t fun; it was often difficult; but we learned some stuff. Teachers don’t do their students any favors by letting them slide. Yes, I am old.

  2. There are plenty of competent junior high and high school English teachers. (Though there are plenty who are also not competent.) They are being asked to teach to tests that don’t require thoughtful, critical, grammatically correct writing. So they don’t have time to teach that.

    I’ve been a high school English teacher. It’s hard work. I think I have a heavy load as a college professor, but my friends teaching high school English do more grading with more restrictions and larger classes. (That’s you, Melissa!)

    But you and I diagrammed sentences when we didn’t have to take a comprehensive statewide exam that showed whether we (and our teachers) had mastered x, y, and z. So we got to learn the whole alphabet.

    My sons had a competent high school English teacher. I quit my job as a professor and homeschooled them. Perhaps charter schools can help other students.

    The truth of the matter is, though, that grammatical English is determined by the actions of the majority of the English writers and speakers. My upper middle class students don’t use apostrophes correctly, despite their quality education. So, yes, I expect it to go the way of the Dodo bird, and to be decorating museum exhibits soon.

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