Plurals and the rogue apostrophe

One cat, two cats. Couldn't be simpler - could it?

A copywriter’s common correction

 

One of the most common corrections a copywriter has to make is removing apostrophes from the plural form of a noun.

Simply put:

One cat = two cats, so no need for an apostrophe.

Unless, of course, you are talking about something that belongs to the cat: the cat’s toy.

Why does so much website content and other copy contain this basic error?

 

The plural is one of the very first things we learn when speaking and writing, so it’s quite surprising that so much website content, advertising, brochure copy and other copy contains this simple grammatical error. Presumably (hopefully!) it hasn’t been written by a professional copywriter.

Some people believe it’s a sinister plot on behalf of greengrocers and garages all over the land to take over our language with the rogue apostrophe; indeed the error is commonly known as a greengrocers’ apostrophe. Even though plurals are mostly very simple, just add an ‘s’: one apple, two apples; one MOT, two MOTs.

There are, of course, exceptions depending on the letter or letters that come at the end of a particular word. In most cases, they require a extra ‘e’ before the ‘s’ or an ‘ies’ ending. Most people – and every good copywriter – will know these already, but they can easily be checked online or in a dictionary

A few common examples are:

bus = buses

fox = foxes

berry = berries

knife = knives

hero = heroes

Two words that appear in the Guardian Style Guide as they are often written incorrectly in the plural are:

dwarf = dwarves (not dwarfs)

and

roof = roofs (not rooves)

Copywriters are there to spot mistakes

 

Most of these may seem obvious but copywriters often spot mistakes with the plural form in their clients’ copy. As with any grammatical mistake, it makes the website, brochure or other marketing material look less professional, which doesn’t reflect well on the company.

The simpler the mistake, the worse it seems: you may remember the moment when US Vice President Dan Quayle added an ‘e’ to the word potato in front of a classroom full of children who knew better. Presumably he did this because the plural form takes an extra ‘e’: potato = potatoes.

Possessive pronouns and confusion with the plural

 

A girl owns a bike = the girl’s bike

A girl owns two bikes = the girl’s bikes

Two girls own a bike = the girls’ bike

Two girls individually or jointly own two bikes = the girls’ bikes

Anyone offering professional copywriting services should be familiar with these basic grammatical rules and much more. So if you want to make sure your marketing material and web content is correct, it’s worth investing in a professional copywriter.

For more information on Key Words copywriting services, please see our Copywriting Page.

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