General Question

janbb's avatar

Why do some people put an apostrophe on plurals even when they are not possessives?

Asked by janbb (58197points) October 2nd, 2020

I know this is a petty peeve but I find it annoying that sign makers and even self-styled educated people do it.

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27 Answers

canidmajor's avatar

My autocorrect does this a lot, turns regular words into possessives or contractions. I went through he’ll when I was I’ll, but I feel we’ll now.
Very frustrating.

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elbanditoroso's avatar

Inadequate education.

LuckyGuy's avatar

It look’s like they know what there doing.

JLeslie's avatar

A combination of autocorrect and not editing before hitting send (that would be me) and people not knowing what is correct.

I think the apostrophe is much like using “I“ instead of “me.” People think “I“ is always correct even following a preposition, because as children we are often corrected to “I“ when we use “me” incorrectly. Children don’t put in apostrophes when they first learn to write, and then they learn to add them, and then people who never learn the rule correctly add them too often.

Once in a while it is tricky to know when to put the possessive. I think we had a Q recently about some word being correct either way.

@LuckyGuy Lol.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

The same reason people use Inappropriate Capitalization. Poor language skills.

I mistype there/their/they’re fairly often. But at least I know it’s wrong.

zenvelo's avatar

The people who do so are truly possessed. :)

Jeruba's avatar

That’s what Bob the angry flower would like to know.

When I was still working as an editor in high tech, I once asked a professional writer on the team why he put an apostrophe in every -s plural he wrote. He laughed (because > shrug <) and said, “I always forget where they go, so I figure if I put them in, I can’t be wrong.”

Somebody else said something similar, which boiled down to: if you know which is right and which isn’t, you can mentally correct them and you’ll be happy, and if you don’t, they won’t bother you. These guys don’t care that it’s the equivalent in written language of a raging case of acne.

Demosthenes's avatar

Anyone can slip up, especially when typing. Even I will sometimes write “its” when I mean “it’s” or vice versa. But I think the theory about hypercorrection is…correct. People have been corrected on not using an apostrophe so they compensate by using them everywhere. The rule isn’t that hard to learn, but for some people I think there’s a very small window to learn it and beyond that, they’re never going to get it or care.

In the case of “whom”, if you’re not certain how to use it, just don’t! “Who should I give it to?” sounds better than “Whom was in the house last night?”

JLeslie's avatar

I’m just remembering, I think it was a Q about whether to write letters in the plural with an apostrophe. As or A’s.

@Jeruba wrote: “I always forget where they go, so I figure if I put them in, I can’t be wrong.” Lol. How does that make sense to anyone? When I guess I know I might be wrong. I wonder if he thinks that way about many things in life—he can’t be wrong.

Demosthenes's avatar

@JLeslie Yeah, like most of these rules, there are exceptions. That’s one of them. Writing the plural of letters, that is. It is admittedly confusing. But given the infrequency of that, it shouldn’t be too hard to learn that plurals by default do not have apostrophes, only in the rare case when you’re pluralizing individual letters.

janbb's avatar

Some people do it consistently so it’s not just the occasional slip-up. It’s just wrong. We all make mistakes once in a while.

JLeslie's avatar

@Demosthenes Agreed. Some words like parents, parent’s, parents’ can be understandably confusing I guess? I just had that in a sentence recently and paused for a second when writing, but in most situations it’s fairly strait forward if you know the rules.

Demosthenes's avatar

@JLeslie One thing that can help disambiguate is rephrasing a possessive as “X of Y”, so if you write “the parents objections” and are unsure where to put that apostrophe, reword it to either “the objections of the parents” or “the objections of the parent”. If you meant the former, then the apostrophe goes after the s (possessive plural), if you mean the latter, the apostrophe goes before the s (possessive singular).

I remember debating someone on the difference between “peoples’” and “people’s”. He was saying “The People’s Court” should be “The Peoples’ Court”, but that would mean “the court of the peoples”, i.e. different nations. “The People’s Court” means “the court of the people”, which is the intended meaning, so the apostrophe is correct.

JLeslie's avatar

@Demosthenes I usually just put my name in the sentence. If it would need an apostrophe then I know any word in that position would need the apostrophe. I don’t have a lot of trouble with that part of grammar. Mostly, my problem is not editing before sending, and then all my mistakes are there for all to see, including the autocorrect blunders.

Jeruba's avatar

His exact words were: “I can never remember where they go, so I figure I’m always safe to put them in.” I wrote them down at the time.

He was safe only because I restrained myself. In my head, I was with Bob.

@JLeslie, that device is apt to lead you astray. It won’t, for example, guide you correctly with “its.”

jca2's avatar

I find that annoying.

I also find it annoying when people put commas everywhere. For example, when, people put commas, everywhere.

snowberry's avatar

When teachers in elementary schools all over the country put it on their classroom bulletin boards, you know the problem is much deeper than it looks. It tells me that teacher needs to go back to school, and I shudder at the quality of education those children are receiving.

In text auto-corrected by a computer, I am much more likely to let it slide because I know how obnoxious that service is. But in grocery stores (Sale! Banana’s 25 cents per pound!), bulletin boards, and newspapers, it’s just unacceptable, IMO.

snowberry's avatar

^^ @jca2 yep! One of those guys lives here at Fluther!

Brian1946's avatar


“I went through he’ll when I was I’ll, but I feel we’ll now.”

When I expand those contractions, the result seems rather Dylanesque:

I went through he will when I was “I will”, but I feel we will now.

Brian1946's avatar

Edited: double post for some weirdass reason.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jeruba It’s is a contraction. What am I missing? Maybe you can give me an example.

canidmajor's avatar

@JLeslie Here’s an example: “Jleslie’s box is here.” apostrophe used. “Its box is here.” no apostrophe used.

JLeslie's avatar

@canidmajor I guess I just know that the apostrophe in it’s is for it is. An exception to my rule for checking whether to use an apostrophe.

For a while I thought there was a such thing as its’ for possessive, but eventually I learned that wasn’t the case. I don’t remember who taught it to me incorrectly originally, I remember someone telling me the wrong thing when I was younger, but I always knew it’s was the contraction not the possessive.

I’ve seen people put apostrophes in the wrong place for other contractions and I don’t get how people screw it up. Like I’ve seen would’nt. Do they not know how to spell would not? They don’t realize it’s a contraction of would not? They never learned that the apostrophe is to take place of the missing letters? Maybe they think the apostrophe indicates connecting the words rather than the missing letters. I don’t see that type of mistake much anymore, probably because of spell check.

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