Monthly Archives: September 2010

Should apostrophes be phased out?

Apostrophes seem to be the least understood and most frequently stuffed up element of the English language. Possessions, contractions, quotations, plural-possessive… so many rules to remember. When you throw in the contrary its and it’s, it’s (excuse the pun) no wonder that people get confused. And then there’s the people who add an apostrophe into any word ending with an s. But don’t get me started on that.

We all learnt this stuff in primary school, right? Why is it that I got it and thousands didn’t? Is it for the same reason that I still to this day do not know how to calculate a percentage – i.e. I don’t have a mind for maths and science; others aren’t good with English? Or are the rules just overly complicated?

There’s a school of thought that apostrophes should be phased out entirely. They ARE overly complicated, they’re contradictory and their misuse further mangles the meaning of whatever is being communicated.

The intention of the word/phrase should be clear from what’s being said, not from a little crescent-shaped mark placed strategically between two letters.

Imagine how much easier it would be to teach grammar at school without all these extra rules and clauses that cancel each other out? The English language is complicated enough as it is, right?

University lecturers would be grateful for the extra time students spent actually learning how to write well rather than getting bogged down in punctuation.

It actually sounds like a pretty good idea, in theory. And language isn’t a static thing – it’s developing all the time. Why not make it more accessible for all?

But if you ask me, we’d be selling ourselves short. Why dumb down a language that, when used properly, can be as intricate and beautiful as it can be a simple form of communication? A famous writer, I can’t remember which, once said that there’s nothing in this world more beautiful than a correctly used semi-colon. And someone else said there’s nothing so over-used in university papers.

But if we start by getting rid of apostrophes, what next? Do we ban semi-colons too, because so few uni students know how to use them correctly? And should we then forget about commas because they so often hang randomly and unnecessarily in the middle of sentences? And how about full stops while we’re at it? Maybe if we got rid of all punctuation, then no one would struggle with writing again!

then all our sentences would look like this wed never have to pause for breath people would have to work out the meaning by themselves because thered be no visual indication of a contraction or proper nouns or speech itd be liberating

Or liber8ing, even.

I’m not against change, really I’m not. But as a professional writer, I’m a bit of a purist. I appreciate the English language for all its intricacies and its complications, and I enjoy strumming it as a musician would a guitar.

Sounds selfish, I guess. I suppose it is. But to continue with my music metaphor, it just doesn’t make any sense to me to turn an operatic score into a nursery rhyme.

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