Should we abandon the apostrophe?

It might seem ridiculous, but consider how much more ridiculous the apostrophe itself is. People never get the usage right, it doesn't actually add much value, and it seems to be a relic of a time in which things were very different than now. If anything, the apostrophe today serves the same purpose as other prescriptive measures: to keep classes differentiated within writing.


We have used the apostrophe in English since the 1500s, after taking it from the French. It was initially used only for the purpose of elision, either in the case of contractions (e.g. I'm, aren't) or when words lost their vowel sounds that they had previously had (lov'd versus hated, for instance). Later, the adoption of the apostrophe for possessives (Nathan's) came into use, and eventually the second version of elision dropped out of use (we just write "loved" now).


The most common misuse of the apostrophe is the greengrocers' apostrophe. This is the practice of using it to pluralize words, especially words that definitely do NOT need an apostrophe in any case. The common joke is to label these not as greengrocers' apostrophes but greengrocers apostrophe's. Apple's, orange's, one dollar per pound. Banana's thirty-nine cents each.

To the trained eye, those usages are clearly incorrect. But they are so frequently used, it is obvious there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Another common misuse is between its and it's. This is particularly difficult because the apostrophe is supposed to be used for possessives, and its is definitely a possessive. But since it's is a contraction, and since contractions came first, somehow its (the possessive) doesn't get the apostrophe. And you can see how confusing that can be.


There are a few solutions to this apostrophe problem. We could complain endlessly about its misuse, allow it to be used willy-nilly with no set rules, or abandon it altogether. The first solution, which seems to be the strategy of most grammar commentators on the internet and elsewhere, has clearly not worked. The second solution is hateful to those same people, as without any semblance of rules, the whole idea of grammatical structure falls apart. The idea of arbitrarily using a punctuation is ridiculous.

And then there's abandonment. Eradication of the apostrophe. This plan is not without merit. An apostrophe cannot be misused if it is never used. And it would clearly have structure, appeasing those who need rules in grammar. The rule would be simple: there is no apostrophe. The major uses of the apostrophe would survive fine without it. Consider this sentence:

"Im going to Jimmys store to pick up apples, oranges, and if he hasnt sold all of them, a package of Nathans hotdogs."

Easily readable. Not encumbered by unnecessary punctuation.


Consider the major contractions and their apostrophe-less variations. Which are difficult to parse or read? In only a few cases would the loss of the apostrophe clash with existing words. For example, "let's." Without the apostrophe, one could argue that it looks too much like the verb "lets." How much confusion would there actually be, however, between a verb and a verb-noun combo? "Lets go to the store" is not difficult to understand. There are not similar complaints for the myriad legitimate homonyms whose meanings can become confusing.


The only major problem facing the loss of the apostrophe in the structure of possession is for words or names that end with 's'. However, one cannot argue that the current solution for this is reasonable. There are too many rules to figure out whether or not you should add an 's' after the apostrophe, and it seems to me that this could be easily solved without the apostrophe to confuse things: never add an 's'. Consider:

Correct: I went to James's house.
Incorrect: I went to James' house.
Proposed: I went to James house.
Correct: The people followed Moses' commands.
Incorrect: The people followed Moses's commands.
Proposed: The people followed Moses commands.

Bam. No confusion. Sure, it doesn't fit the rules that we currently have in place, but it is a rule, it is easy to remember, easy to read, and easy to implement.


I would support eradicating the apostrophe. I'll continue to use it for now, but I seriously think that English, as a language should move toward abandoning this essentially useless punctuation mark. It's certainly a lot better than the alternatives: chaos or endless but futile complaining.