Tag Archives: apostrophes

They Should Know Better

When I read hand-lettered signs in small stores, I readily accept a certain number of mistakes from proprietors who, I presume, are too busy to proofread because they have to order stock, supervise employees, and fill out tax forms. But when major companies are involved, my expectations rise. Obviously I’m courting disappointment, because Those Who Should Know Better often don’t. Witness this advertisement from a nationwide cosmetics chain:

As a verb, “gift” strikes me as a bit pretentious, but it’s not incorrect. The direct object, though, is another issue entirely. The sign urges you to “gift” people. Human trafficking, anyone? Please say no, even if you have a few relatives you wouldn’t mind “gifting” to someone willing to take them far, far away from your holiday gatherings.

And then there’s the phone company. I won’t tell you which one; I imagine it’s easy to find horror stories about all of them. I had to visit and call the one responsible for this ad no fewer than eight times before I succeeded in canceling my late husband’s phone contract. Check out this recruitment pitch:







If they can’t come up with the proper contraction (“you’re,” not “your”), how can they “practice data story-telling, analytics, and more”? And while I’m on the subject, do we actually want “data story-telling”? Can’t we manage with “data” alone, leaving “story-telling” to fiction writers?

I count on good grammar when I read my favorite newspaper, The New York Times, and usually that’s what I get. Every once in a while, though, the editors miss something. Perhaps the excitement surrounding Amazon’s search for new office space overpowered this writer:







I wouldn’t mind “500,000 square foot modern of office space,” if I could figure out what it is.

One more, from a chain restaurant:







I’ve always wanted to try the wings at this restaurant, but I’ll pass on the “sloo smoked BBQ.” I’ve never liked the taste of “sloo.”

Holiday Shopping

Judging by the signs I’ve spotted recently, merchants are hoping you’ll purchase fashionable holiday attire — for your furniture. An example:

Surely you weren’t planning on ushering guests into a room with a naked table! A four-legged pair of jeans would do nicely for a hip, can’t-be-bothered-to-dress-up dinette set. An evening gown with a very wide skirt saves formal hosts from the embarrassment of an underdressed eating surface. No hint from the shopkeeper about what sort of “table clothes” are available. If the customer isn’t pleased with the styles on sale, “sheets” could possibly preserve the table’s modesty.

Sheets, by the way, seem to tangle when they encounter signs, much as they do in a washing machine:

My bed has lumps, but no bedbugs or a single  “pillow sheet.” How about yours? Maybe a “pillow sheet” would be a good gift.

Still in the linen closet, I’ll move on to the next sign, trying not to cry that the apostrophe rule has crashed and burned once again:







The apostrophe give a sheet possession of the “sale,” which, judging by the price but not the quality of the merchandise, is a pretty good deal. Why is it that so many people persist in thinking that an apostrophe creates a plural? Theories welcome.

I’m obviously stressed about punctuation, and this sign didn’t help:

The bullet point in front of “house” was odd because there were no other items on the sign, hence no bulleted list. But if I’m opting to tinker with punctuation, I’m going for a comma after “house.” That comma would create a direct address statement appropriate to this holiday season:  “House, hold items [so I don’t have to].” See? Shopping-stress relief!

Enough grammar quibbles. Focus on what’s important about Thanksgiving and other holidays:








Do what the sign says: “Enjoy you holiday.”

Calling All Creatives

Words slide from one part of speech to another all the time. How else could I meet some Yankees (noun) or watch Yankees baseball (adjective)? Nor is it rare for words to pick up new and fanciful definitions, though I confess that the first time I see the unexpected, I tend to assume the writer is wrong. Alas, pride does indeed go before a fall, because often I am wrong and what I thought was an error turns out to be a creative expression or a specialized usage.

Are these sign-writers visionary, knowledgeable, or grammatically inept? I’ll let you decide.

Man shirt?









The usual expression is “men’s shirt” or, in an apostrophe-stricken way, “mens shirt.” “Men’s” with the apostrophe is a possessive noun. Without the apostrophe it’s a mistake.  “Man shirt” turns “man” into an adjective. The dictionary allows for “man” as a noun (the man at the counter), a verb (to man the barricades) or an interjection (Man! That was awesome!) True, I don’t flinch at “man cave” (not at the wording, anyway). Perhaps the sign-writer didn’t want the correct but trite “men’s shirt.” But how to change it? “Male shirt” endows the clothing itself with gender.  “Shirts belonging to men” is too long and often inaccurate, as lots of people who aren’t men like the button-down look. “Masculine shirt”? That seems to rely on outdated stereotypes. Maybe “man shirt” isn’t so bad after all.

Moving on:

In my ignorance I was ready to impose an “unauthorized part of speech” penalty — until I looked up “creative” in the dictionary, which enlightened me to the fact that “creative” can be a noun applied to people who, well, create for a living: writers, artists, composers, and so forth. Apparently I’ve been a “creative” for decades and never knew it.

Last one:









“Availability” as a noun is pretty common, but usually in the abstract sense: “Her immediate availability makes her the ideal candidate for Fire Warden, because two million acres are aflame and another million at risk.” But every dictionary definition of “availability” begins with “the quality of” or “the state of,” not “the place where.” On the sign, “availabilities” is a stand-in for “property you can rent if you have enough money.” (A little research into real estate prices showed me that “availabilities” are more expensive than “space for rent.”) Before I leave this sign, I have to address the meaning of “RSF.” I found a site listing 53 meanings for this acronym. I scrolled past “Royal Scots Fusiliers,” “Resource Selection Function,” “Rivista di Studi Fenici” (Journal of Phoenician Studies) until I arrived at “Rental Square Feet,” which seemed more apt than Scots, ecologists, and Phoenicians.

This whole post, by the way, arose from a New York Times article that quoted the phrase “negative effectives” from a judge’s decision.  Given that an “effective” is a “soldier ready for battle” and the ruling was about the military, the phrase might have made sense. Sort of. Then I checked other papers, all of which referred to “negative effects.” Sometimes a “new usage” isn’t creative or specialized. It’s just a typo.

Moral of the story (and note to self): Check before you scoff.

Apostrophes. Sigh.

If I had my way, apostrophes would be exiled from English. My reasons are sound. Many perfectly fine languages do quite well without this punctuation mark. Plus, few people misunderstand the writer’s intended meaning just because an errant apostrophe has crashed a sentence or gone AWOL. Alas, I don’t have my way very often, and never in matters of apostrophes. Perhaps that’s why I seldom bother snapping photos of the many errors I see on signs around New York. But every once in a while, I can’t resist. This sign caught my eye yesterday:







I’m fine with an apostrophe-less “ladies,” because nouns do morph into adjectives at times (e.g. “Yankees baseball”). However, “mens” isn’t a noun. In fact, it’s not even a word. “Men” is an irregular plural, so the only legitimate term is “men’s,” the possessive form. But are the alternatives fair?  You can write “ladies’ & men’s” or “ladies and men” and claim symmetry and equality.  Yet while you might talk about “ladies tailoring” you probably wouldn’t say “men tailoring.” (The technical reason: It doesn’t sound right. Plus, who’s to say that you’re not talking about a guy waving a tape measure around?) Despite the difficulty of fashioning an apostrophe in neon, I think this sign should read  “ladies’ and men’s.”

This sign writer took a different approach:


Fairness demands that because you can have a “man cave,” you should also be able to have a “man shirt.” Working backward on the logic chain to the first sign in this post, you end up with “woman and man tailoring.” I can live with that usage. In fact, I can think of many a woman and man I wouldn’t mind tailoring to my specifications  — talks less, vacuums more, stuff like that. But strict grammarians might object.

One more for (and from) the road:


Why do people keep trying to make plurals with apostrophes? Upstate’s “hen’s” may be the “happiest,” but I bet upstate’s grammarians are pretty glum. They may even be the “unhappiest grammarian’s.”


A quick search of The New York Times yields 137, 513 hits for the word “odd.” The earliest appeared in 1851, and the word shows up regularly thereafter – never more frequently than in this, well, odd presidential campaign. But this post isn’t about politics. It’s about the odd expressions I’ve seen lately, such as the one on this sign:











In my apartment-rental years, I signed many leases, but never a “non-renewal” one. I wonder what this sort of lease stipulates. Your lease extends to never? Your new monthly rent is zero dollars? (See http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=1477 for other nonsensical “zero” signs.)

Here’s another odd expression:



I saw this on the side of a truck. Apparently, the contractor “specialized” in bathroom renovations. Good to know, if you’re seeking a renovation in the past. Lacking a handy time-travel gadget, though, potential customers may see a problem here.

One more:

Apostrophe? Preposition?

Missing apostrophe? Preposition?









This sign screams “scam,” and not because of its odd wording, which I presume is the result of omitting the preposition “for” (I buy all cars for cash) and not an apostrophe (I buy all cars’ cash). But aside from grammar, who can buy “all cars”? And how much cash would it take? What would the buyer do with them? Odd indeed!


Best wishes

In these days of anguish, I’ve noticed many New Yorkers trying harder to take care of each other. On the Third Avenue bus last Saturday night, the driver told departing passengers to “have a very, very, very good evening” or to “be happy, be happy, be extremely happy.” She repeated variations of these statement at each stop with intensity and, as far as I could tell, sincerity. When I got off the bus, she told me to “enjoy, really enjoy” myself. I was grateful for her concern.

Earlier that day, in a pub near the former World Trade Center, the waitress asked my husband and me how “you guys’s day” had been. She really seemed to want to know  and to hope that the answer was “good” or something even more positive.  I spent most of the afternoon trying to decide how to spell what I had heard, which sounded like “you guizes.” The traditional rule for possessive plurals ending in the letter S, such as “guys,” is to tack on an apostrophe after the S. But “you guys” isn’t a traditional plural. Instead, it’s one of the ways New Yorkers indicate that “you” refers to more than one person. (The other common local expression for the plural “you” is “youse” — effective, but not Standard English.) The pronoun you, of course, may be either singular or plural. Lucky waitress: She didn’t have to write down her thoughts or worry about grammar.

That task falls to me. My first idea was “you guys’ day.” That seemed wrong, though, because the pronunciation would be “you guize” — more direct address or a simple plural than possession. I considered writing the phrase as pronounced (“you guizes” or “you guyses”), but then where would I place the apostrophe? And without the punctuation mark, the possessive sense is lost.

I haven’t settled the question, though as you see, I opted for the grammatically incorrect but phonetically accurate “you guys’s.” Your thoughts are welcome — as was the sense of inclusion the waitress was going for. She didn’t want to exclude anyone, a sentiment that, universally applied, would create a better society. And, you guys, we really need that now.

The most unkindest cut

Shakespeare’s Marc Antony was onto something when he referred to Brutus’s stab at Julius Caesar as the “most unkindest cut of all” – something that  this New York City barber seems determined to avoid:

Nice to know they're kind to senior citizens and kids.

Nice to know the barber is kind.









I wasn’t able to determine what the gray tape covered. Perhaps it was “except when we’re annoyed” or another disclaimer? And is that where the little red dots come from – scissor stabs?  Regardless, I do prefer “kind cuts” from my salon, and I’m sure you do also. I am a bit upset by the lack of apostrophes, which create a warning that “senior citizens cut” and doesn’t explain whether old people with scissors make “kind” or cruel stabs and slashes. No guarantees after 65, I guess. At least when “kids haircut,” the only possible victim is a tress.

I can’t leave this sign without asking whether anyone knows what a “tape-up” is. Maybe something to do with the duct tape near the top of the sign? Nor have I a clue about the definition of “skin fade.” I’ve seen odd (to me) stubble-on-a-scalp looks, but wouldn’t those be “hair fades”?  And does “shape up” command you to finally get serious about dieting and exercise? Theories welcome.

Fatal Messages

I was strolling through the East Village and Chelsea recently, two areas of Manhattan with a fairly high hipness score. (I can tell you right now that, not having any tattoos, I felt like an enemy agent, or at best an emissary from the Country of Old People.) I noticed these signs, which I hope were aiming for humor and not accurately reporting services offered. But these days, who knows? First up:

Do the police know?

Do the police know?









I wondered whether the shop operated a guillotine or something less fatal. (Repeat business, after all, doesn’t flourish if the head is in a basket and the body in a chair.) Seeing no rivulets of blood seeping under the door, I kept reading:

Apostrophes would be nice.

Please tell me we’re talking about hair.









Where do I start? “Mens” needs an apostrophe, and “women” needs both an apostrophe and the letter S. Given the guillotine reference, I wouldn’t mind seeing “hair” before the word “cuts.” But in a neighborhood where anyone who doesn’t display a pierced something is an anomaly, maybe the sign should say “men and women cut,” to inform the public that the slicing and dicing on sale is gender-neutral.

The next time I need a cut – and I do refer to hair – I may stop by. I’ll let you know the result, if I’m still alive.

Don’t Mess with a Grandma

I more or less gave up on apostrophes a long time ago. There seems to be a cosmic jar filled with this punctuation mark, which writers shake over their texts, letting apostrophes fall willy-nilly into words. Thus I ignored this sign, which shoves an apostrophe into a plural, where it does not belong:

Tuesday's. Sigh.

Tuesday’s. Sigh.

Some grammarians call this usage a “greengrocer’s apostrophe.” (Notice the correct use of the possessive apostrophe in the term, which names a punctuation error.) Why “greengrocer’s”? My opinion, based on no research whatsoever, is that people who use this term believe a shopkeeper (greengrocer) is more likely than a non-business owner to insert apostrophes into plurals. That belief doesn’t match my experience. If I stacked all the student essays, term papers, and other writing I graded and corrected during my teaching career, the top of the pile would be within spitting distance of the moon and maybe even topple over onto a moon rock or two. Nearly all of those writing efforts included a “greengrocer’s apostrophe,” and none of the students were grocers, though many were (environmentally) green.

Though I scarcely glance at extra apostrophes, I did stop short when I saw this sign:


Granny’s combative.









The color difference between the first and last pair of lines initially led me to believe that the tavernkeeper was making a statement about grandmothers and their alleged capacity to slug someone. But I’m a grandmother, and though sorely tempted at times, I have never punched anyone. Then I noticed that no punctuation appeared anywhere at all. Perhaps the sign is a statement about grannies’ tendency to wallop cocktails, I mused. (Sidepoint: There are hot cocktails? Who knew! ) The image of grandmothers bopping martinis, mimosas, and other drinks made me wonder whether a new temperance movement was brewing. I still don’t know what the sign means. Just to be safe, I have one piece of advice: Don’t mess with a grandma, especially when she’s drinking.

Please tell me . . .

Please tell me that two apostrophes are missing from this sign, and not the verb “are.” Even though it’s unlikely that Fido and Mittens can read, I’d also be happy with direct address, created by a colon after “cats”:



Please tell me that the employees of this store are not making neat rectangles out of little humans:

Fold how?

Fold how?


I understand the “wash” part, as I subscribe to a theory I discovered in an Angela Thirkell novel: that kids are born with a bag of dirt inside that leaks out little by little, beginning anew every time they emerge from the bathtub. But the rest is a mystery. Fold? Doubled over at the waist, or vertically from left to right? Also, what’s with the “n”? Why use this contraction of “and,” which is more a grunt than a word? Maybe the workers are too busy bending kids’ hands and feet (and then keeping the limbs in place) to add the missing letters? And what’s the market for folded babies and toddlers? Okay, as an experienced mother and grandmother, I can actually answer that last question. After a long day chasing little kids around, having someone fold them neatly is, unfortunately, appealing. Wrong, but appealing.