It might not have grabbed your attention, but apostrophe abuse has been in the news lately. After the results of an apostrophe survey were made public, blogs on the topic of the apostrophe surfaced once again. According to the survey carried out by IT firm SpinVox, nearly half of the 2000 UK adults tested were unable to use the apostrophe correctly.

Apostrophe makes headlines

Just consult a couple of English language style guides and you will see that this punctuation mark is one which causes native speakers a lot of trouble. On BBC’s Newsnight, the possibility of actually ditching the apostrophe was even discussed. Should you be toying with the idea of getting rid of the apostrophe, The Guardian’s Style Guide suggests that you take a look at the phrases below before making up your mind.

my sister’s friend’s investments
my sisters’ friends’ investments
my sisters’ friend’s investments
my sister’s friends’ investments

If you look closely, you will see that each phrase has a different meaning. So one reason to keep the apostrophe is simply to avoid confusion. Although these examples are crystal clear, the rules regarding possessives continue to be disputed. Is it Stephens’s story or Stephens’ story?

Semicolon sparks emotion across the other side of the ocean

Hardly a runner-up, the semicolon is the other punctuation mark which continues to make headlines. Although The New York Times praised a New York City Transit public service writer for using a semicolon on a public service paperboard sign, the semicolon tends to receive negative attention.

One of the most well-known examples is a court’s decision to reject a conservative group’s challenge to a statue regarding gay marriage due to the insertion of a semicolon. “A conservative group had asked the court to order the city to ‘cease and desist issuing marriage licenses to and/or solemnising marriages of same-sex couples; to show cause before the court.’ As the San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren explained, the word ‘or’ should have been used instead of the semicolon. ‘I am not trying to be petty here,’ he told reporters, ‘but it is a big deal… That semicolon is a big deal.’”

Americans in general dislike the semicolon and avoid using it. As applied linguist Ann Keating in the article “Pause Celebre” (Financial Times) explains, “Americans see the semicolon as punctuation’s axis of evil.”

Although I do not have any strong feelings about the semicolon, I often avoid using the semicolon just by rewriting copy. My New Year’s resolution, however, is to use use this punctuation mark more often!

*A client of Stars & Tulips inspired me to write this web column

*Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /