We’ve all heard the expression, but would you notice – or even be concerned – if you saw it spelt incorrectly as ‘its not you, its me’? This recently happened to Topshop, when the high street giant designed a t-shirt featuring the famous phrase, embroidered around the neck of the garment but missing both of its apostrophes.
Image credit: www.topshop.com
Predictably, some people failed to see what the issue was, whilst others (myself included) recoiled from the misspelling, fearing it was a further indication of the ongoing insidious infiltration of common grammatical errors into everyday life.
These basic grammatical errors are a personal bugbear of ours, something we have in common with the self-styled ‘Grammar Vigilante’ who recently appeared in the news headlines. The anonymous character tours the city of Bristol at night with his ‘Apostrophiser’ – a specially made tool which allows him to correct grammatical errors on shop signage and billboards with ease. He states “…It’s a worse crime to have all these errant apostrophes on shops and garages. I just think it’s going to teach the youth of tomorrow the wrong grammar.” We’re definitely inclined to agree with him.
Surely one the Vigilante – and ourselves – is aware of is:
Let’s eat kids. Let’s eat, kids
whereby the use of – or failure to use – an apostrophe totally changes the meaning of the phrase. As the rest of the saying goes:
Use a comma. Save lives.
As we can see, there’s no denying the power of the simple comma in determining the perception of a sentence.
Common grammatical we are all aware of – and many may even admit to being afraid of – include:
The fear is, more often than not, in not knowing which is the correct term to use in a specific instance.
A simple way to determine the correct use is to simply picture the apostrophe replacing the letters, so, for example, ‘they are’ is shortened to ‘they’re’ be replacing the ‘a’ in ‘are’ with an apostrophe. This should help you to avoid using the incorrect ‘there’ or ‘their’.
Used to define possession, an apostrophe is either ignored when it should be used or used when not necessary, e.g:
Bananas for sale/banana’s for sale
Potatoes sold here/potato’s sold here
MOTs only £50/MOT’s only £50
1000s of offers/1000’s of offers
The words on the left are correct, as, in this instance, the terms do not ‘belong’ to anything. The use of an apostrophe in ‘banana’s’ denotes that the banana is in possession of something, so ‘the banana’s skin is yellow’, rather than simply depicting the fruit itself.
The opposite is true of a term such as:
as the use on the right is correct. This is due to the same premise we described above, whereby the apostrophe is used to replace the letter ‘e’.
Apostrophes with possessive nouns are used in one of two ways:
The dog’s lead
The kids’ room
The first defines an object belonging to one – or a singular – dog. The second refers to a group – or multiple – beings, in this case children. If the room in question belonged to one child rather than several, this would be referenced as ‘the kid’s room’.
You pay someone a compliment, telling them their shoes complement their dress. In doing so, you are being complementary, rather than complimentary, which means free of charge. There isn’t really any logic to this one, rather it’s one of those you just accept.
These two words strike fear into the hearts of many, as they struggle to differentiate between the two. Once you know the difference you can happily use them, knowing you have the correct version.
Essentially, ‘affect’ is a verb – or action word – which means to change, influence or impact. In comparison, ‘effect’ is a noun, which is a place, person, object or idea. An effect is the result of a change.
Demonstrated in a simple sentence, ‘…the rain affected her hairstyle…’, means the rain had an impact upon the woman’s hair.
In contrast, ‘…the rain had no effect on her hairstyle…’ means her hair was not altered by the weather conditions.
Another common area of confusion is in the use of apostrophes in abbreviations. As a rule, abbreviations do use apostrophes, for example:
The terms on the left are correct, as ‘over the knees’ and ‘little black dresses’ are not ‘over the knee’s’ and ‘little black dress’s’. The same premise applies to an example referenced above – ‘MOTs’. A common mistake seen in many garages, the acronym in full stands for ‘Ministry of Transport’, not ‘Ministry of Transport’s’, which is what is suggested through the use of ‘MOT’s’.
The credibility of your brand and messaging can be influenced by the use of correct – or incorrect! – grammar. Whilst you might not be passionate about the subject, ensuring any written communication you produce is error free should be an essential part of your sign off process, prior to any communication going to print or appearing in the digital sphere.
Let us know of any frequent errors you see or any multiple meanings you struggle to get to grips with!