Foreigners often remark, with a sly grin, that English is the easiest language in the world to learn. I don’t take that as a compliment, but as a playful poke that English, despite Shakespeare, is unsophisticated and lacking in expression. Of course, I don’t believe that for a second. But the movement backing the abolition of the apostrophe (and I wonder how many of them speak a second language), is doing its very best to destroy one of English’s unique eccentricities.
The Times reported today that Birmingham City Council has decreed that possessive apostrophes shall no longer appear on street signs. The Times ran a photo of the correctly written sign, “St Paul’s Square” against the new sign, “St Pauls Square”. It is a painful sight to look upon.
Before Christmas I heard Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight coming out in favour of dropping the possessive apostrophe with the brisk line: “It is not necessary”.
Using the possessive apostrophe actually gets us to think about what we are saying and who or what belongs to whom or what – whether or not we think possession is a good idea in itself.
The possessive apostrophe is also useful and practical in certain grammatical phrases, and it is fun!
Let’s fight for the possessive apostrophe and, at the same time, for the English subjunctive! Oh, and the semicolon!
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