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Misused Apostrophes

The day I went into labor with my daughter I was transferred from a labor and delivery room to a postpartum patient room back to a labor and delivery room.  By the time I returned to the labor & delivery room I had been in labor for over 12 hours.  About 14 hours into my labor I received an epidural and I became a much happier and lucid person again since I wasn’t in terrible pain.

Once the epidural kicked in, I noticed I sign in the room that read, “For the patients’ privacy, please keep the curtain in front of this door closed.”  I looked around the labor and delivery room and saw my husband, my parents, and my in-laws.  There was just one patient: me!  Therefore, I started to obsess over the fact that the apostrophe was misplaced.  I brought this to my mother’s attention.  I said, “Shouldn’t the apostrophe be before the s making it p-a-t-i-e-n-t-‘-s?”

She looked at me, shook her head and said, “This is what you’re focusing on right now?”

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

“Why don’t you worry about something else?” she asked.

“I have the epidural now and feel fine.  I just can’t believe this hospital would place the apostrophe in the wrong place and put it in the labor and delivery rooms!  Will you take a picture of it for me?”

“No,” my mom said firmly.  And then she changed the subject.

For the next 11 hours of my labor, I continued to look at this sign and shook my head.  By the time my daughter arrived the sign became correct.  There were two patients in the room.  However, we were quickly transferred to a postpartum room, as I’m assuming most women and their babies are.  Therefore, the sign still seemed to be wrong to me.

Ever since that sign in the hospital, I’ve noticed a lot more incorrectly placed apostrophes in signs.  For instance, here’s one I noticed at the fitness center I belong to:

Why is there an 's in the word kids? This is incorrect. It should be "Enjoy free play or organized kids games..."

When I was a classroom teacher, one of my pet peeves was when students unnecessarily placed apostrophes before the letter s.  When I noticed this happening often, a writing conference took place in order to directly instruct the student about the proper use of an apostrophe.  However, through the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of adults often misuse apostrophes in their writing (Some examples from recent e-mails I’ve received:  “I can’t wait to see photo’s of your daughter.” and “Have you seen the video’s she posted on YouTube?”)  This makes it hard to help kids write properly if they are seeing signs with apostrophes in the incorrect place (i.e., sentences that don’t show possession and sentences where the apostrophe isn’t taking the place of other letters in a word).

I want to do something about all of this misused apostrophe business.  I’ve thought about starting a blog for misused apostrophes, similar to The “Blog” of “Unnecssary” Quotation Marks, but I don’t think I’m ready for a second blog venture seeing as I have an infant at home.  However, I think it would be interesting to gather a bunch of photos of signs that have misused apostrophes for the purpose of using them as a teaching tool with students.  (It beats grammar worksheets, right?)  Real-life examples can lead to discussions about when, how, and why, to use an apostrophe in a sentence.  Kids need to understand how a misused apostrophe changes the meaning of their writing.

If you have an interest in being on the lookout for signs like this, for the purpose of creating some kind of teaching tool, then please leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

Categories

conventions, grammar

Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

8 thoughts on “Misused Apostrophes Leave a comment

  1. I like this idea and agree that it’s a great teaching tool. A great picture book for punctuation is Punctuation Takes a Vacation. Although it doesn’t address misuse of particular punctuation marks it does emphasize the need for punctuation as a sense-making aid when reading. I hope some of us decide to post some of the signs we find of inappropriate use of apostrophes.
    On another note, I had to laugh at your obsession with the hospital room sign while you were in labor and I’m not surprised you did this instead of focusing on the immediacy of your situation. Hope mom and baby are doing well.

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  2. @Linda, Sandy, and Christy: Thanks for your enthusiasm. I look forward to receiving the links to the offending signs!
    @Katie: Either one makes sense. “Writers'” makes more sense to me, but not enough for me to use it. Therefore, I always called it “Writing Workshop” so I could get around the whole apostrophe controversy!

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  3. I am in. I can think of two examples I can photograph already! I collect examples of spelling mistakes too, so I have some of them, if we end up having a use for them.

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  4. Ok….so here’s my question. Is it

    Writer’s Workshop

    or

    Writers’ Workshop

    The workshop format would indicate that each writer is given autonomy and so the workshop is for them. They make it their own. It belongs to them. However since there are multiple writers in the room… This has been bugging me for awhile now.

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  5. Stacey, I love your labor story! Congratulations on your baby girl, and welcome back.

    I would like to participate in this project. Mom and Pop grocery stores and farmers’ markets (or is it farmer’s? – ha!) are another place you see this: “Carrot’s $.40/lb” or the like… I teach grad students and they are just as bad as my 4th graders.

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  6. It’s an issue at my school that we just don’t let those signs stay up; whomever is responsible is asked to make the correction. I’ll be happy to look, but I believe I see more misspellings. Now that you’ve brought my attention to it, perhaps I’ll see more. Funny, funny story you wrote. How interesting is the mind as it travels.

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