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An athletes [sic] performance: Can a possessive apostrophe predict success?: Misplace apostrophes, miss out on med school?


If we believe social media, newspapers, and even some of our best friends and colleagues, the war over standard usage is on. As with many wars, the opposing sides seem to be entrenched in differing ideological positions and many of the battles seem to take place over the most unstable, smallest bits of territory - such as the Oxford comma, singular they, or split infinitives. In this ongoing war, possessive apostrophes have attracted particularly aggressive forays. For example, when some English cities proposed removing apostrophes from street signs, various news outlets published headlines such as, ‘It's a catastrophe for the apostrophe in Britain’ (NBC, 31 January, 2009), ‘Dropped apostrophes spark grammar war in Britain’ (New York Times, 16 March, 2013), and ‘“It's pandering to the lowest common denominator”: Anger as Cambridge bans apostrophe from street names’ (Daily Mail, 18 January, 2014). Explaining Birmingham's ban, one city councillor was not that much less sensational, stating that apostrophes ‘denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed’ and that ‘they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it’ (NBC).

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

J. C. Beal 2010. ‘The grocer's apostrophe: Popular prescriptivism in the 21st century.’ English Today, 26(2), 5764.

P. Bryant , M. Devine , A. Ledward , & T. Nunes 1997. ‘Spelling with Apostrophes and Understanding Possession.’ British Journal of Educational Psychology, 67, 91100.

J. Butterfield (ed.) 2015. Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

P. Garret & C. Austin 1993. ‘The English genitive apostrophe: Judgements of errors and implications for teaching.’ Language Awareness, 2(2), 6175.

L. Hokanson & N. Kemp 2013. ‘Adults’ spelling and understanding of possession and plurality: An intervention study.’ Reading and Writing, 26(2), 241261.

J. A. Lester 1922a. ‘A study of high school spelling material.’ Journal of Education Psychology, 13(2), 6574.

J. A. Lester 1922b. ‘A study of high school spelling material II.’ Journal of Education Psychology, 13(3), 152159.

G. Little 1986. ‘The ambivalent apostrophe.’ English Today, 2, 1517.

E. S. Sklar 1976. ‘The possessive apostrophe: The development and decline of a crooked mark.’ College English, 38(2), 175183.

H. Teitelbaum 1993. ‘The case of the missing apostrophe.’ The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 67(1), 2324.

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English Today
  • ISSN: 0266-0784
  • EISSN: 1474-0567
  • URL: /core/journals/english-today
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