Definition and Examples of the Greengrocer's Apostrophe

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Greengrocer's apostrophe is an informal term in British English for the nonstandard use of an apostrophe before the final -s in the plural form of a word.

Examples and Observations

"There was formerly a respectable tradition (17c - 19c) of using the apostrophe for noun plurals, especially in loanwords ending in a vowel (as in We doe confess Errata's, Leonard Lichfield, 1641, and Comma's are used, Phillip Luckcombe, 1771) and in consonants s, z, ch, sh (as in waltz's and cotillions, Washington Irving, 1804).

Although this practice is rare in 20th c. standard usage, the apostrophe of plurality continues in . . . the nonstandard ('illiterate') use often called in BrE the greengrocer's apostrophe, as in apple's 55p per lb and We sell the original shepherds pie's (notice in a shop window, Canterbury, England)."
(Tom McArthur, The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University. Press, 1992)

"The ubiquity of apostrophes to signal the plural of fruits and vegetables--as in 'Carrot's,' 'Banana's,' and (gasp!) 'Peach'es'--has created the term, at least in England, 'the greengrocer's apostrophe.' The worst offender found by John Richard and the Apostrophe Protection Society: 'Golden Deli-ciou's.'

"Greengrocers, butchers, and supermarket managers have received polite notes from the Apostrophe Protection Society reminding them of the differences between plural and possessive nouns. Among the targets of polite letters that the APS has sent was a local cafe that serves 'Chip's,' 'Sausage's,' 'Roll's,' 'Egg's,' and every other foodstuff with a garnishing of apostrophe.

But the establishment calls itself 'Bennys Cafe.'"
(Richard Lederer and John Shore, Comma Sense: A Fun-damental Guide to Punctuation. St. Martin's Press, 2005)

"The greengrocer's apostrophe--where a simple plural is turned into a singular possessive--is probably the main cause of distress for the many people who would like punctuation to be used properly.

It is so public that it encourages even more wrong use."
(Christine Sinclair, Grammar: A Friendly Approach. Open University Press, 2007)

The Restaurant Apostrophe

"We could just as well call this misuse of the apostrophe to create a plural noun the 'restaurant apostrophe,' for it appears on countless menus--often miswritten menu's--even in chichi establishments. The menu of an Italian restaurant in my neighborhood has some especially outrageous specimens: pizza's, pasta's, appetizer's, soup & salad's, and lunch special's. You can even order a pizza with sauteed onion's. . . .

"The grocer's or restaurant apostrophe also occurs in the curious way some people have of pluralizing their surname. They write the Simpson's or sometimes the Simpsons' when all they need to do is say Doh! and write the Simpsons. (Of course, if a plural possessive is involved, a terminal apostrophe is required: the Simpsons' house.)"
(Charles Harrington Elster, The Accidents of Style: Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly. St. Martin's Press, 2010)

An Atrocity?

"Think of the word 'atrocity,' and certain appalling behaviours spring to mind. Add 'barbaric,' and the picture gets worse. How about a barbaric atrocity that's 'detestable' and provokes 'horror'?

At this point, it's surely time for a UN intervention. We must act to halt this outrage! Except that all the words just quoted come from discussions of the uses and abuses of English. Simon Heffer, in his recent book Strictly English, thinks the so-called 'greengrocer's apostrophe' is an atrocity, and that academics write barbarically . . ..

"Anger delivers ego-enhancing pleasure; so does strengthening the boundaries of group membership--and carping about language is far more socially acceptable than explicit class snobbery or nationalism (not to mention less bother than confronting actual atrocities). Still, can we get, sorry, 'may we have,' a bit of perspective, please?" (Oliver Burkeman, "Why Do They Adopt an Error-Hunting Mindset?" The Guardian, Dec. 16, 2011)

The Demise of the Apostrophe?

"In our period .

. . came the arbitrary codification of its and whose without apostrophe as the genitives of it and who, respectively, and it's, who's with apostrophe as the contraction of it, who with is or has. It is hardly surprising that these conventions seem to be in rapid collapse, with what has been called 'the greengrocer's apostrophe' (apple's 60p, Antique's, linguistic's, and perhaps even mean't, all personally attested) just one symptom of what may well turn out to be the imminent demise of the apostrophe. Distressing though it is to purists, it must be admitted that genuine ambiguities caused by omission or misuse of the apostrophe are very infrequent indeed." (David Denison, "Syntax." The Cambridge History of the English Language, Volume 4, ed. by Suzanne Romaine. Cabridge University Press, 1998)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of the Greengrocer's Apostrophe." ThoughtCo, Mar. 16, 2018, Nordquist, Richard. (2018, March 16). Definition and Examples of the Greengrocer's Apostrophe. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of the Greengrocer's Apostrophe." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).