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How Frequently Is Punctuation Misused?

Updated Jun 29, 2020
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Whats wrong with this sentence? If you have a grasp of basic punctuation, you'll know that the correct way to spell that first word is "What's." It's a contraction of the words "what" and "is," so you need an apostrophe.

As simple as that might seem, the use of apostrophes has long been a sticking point for many people, and according to retired journalist John Richards, the problem has gotten worse, particularly with possessive nouns. It's become so bad that in 2019 Richards shuttered his Apostrophe Protection Society after 18 years.

The group's goal was to act as a resource for writers. Richards saw a need after correcting punctuation mistakes during his tenure as a writer and copy editor, especially with "the way the English language is evolving during use."

But his efforts fell mostly on deaf ears, Richards suggested in announcing the society's end. "We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!" he said. For those still looking for apostrophe advice, the website remains accessible, "for reference and examples," but no interaction with editors is available, and no updates are being made.

Punctuation points:

  • In Latin, writers originally used the word "questio" at the end of a sentence to indicate a question; it eventually developed into the question mark.

  • The ancient Romans came up with the period to indicate a break between sentences. Before that, sentences just ran together.

  • Recitations of the English alphabet used to have a de facto 27th letter: the ampersand (&), which represents the conjunction "and."

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By dimchild — On Jun 28, 2020

It's really a shame to do away with apostrophes. I never heard of the society till now. Someone should start the group again and push harder. Maybe it requires sponsorship to gain awareness and support. International stake holders like the British crown, etc, who could have cultural and emotional incentive should be wooed to give support.

By anon1003311 — On Jun 16, 2020

It is not just the apostrophe that is in serious danger!! Having grown up with an English teacher-mother, I hated grammar questions that gave an example and then required one to pick the rule used to make a choice! My choice was the "Rule of Mother"! Today's use (or the lack thereof) of correct grammar really grates on my ear. And to make matters worse, some of the worse offenders are college students, TV personalities, and English teachers (at all levels). How the heck can students be expected to learn/use correct grammar when the teachers do not use same? Recently I heard an ex-college not grad, I hope!) student talking about when "her and me" (indicating he and his wife) were in school!! Apparently not only are schools not teaching cursive, they are not teaching anything close to good English.

Where are we going with this? Are we going back to grunts and sign language? I shudder to thing what will be considered normal language by 2050! I may hear it in lots of places and in what is considered normal language, but I certainly do not have to like it!

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