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Mr Apostrophe hangs up his marker pen.

John Richards has been campaigning for the correct use of the apostrophe since 2001. But, at 96, he has decided to bring his Apostrophe Protection Society to an end. A society he created not because there is now a shortage of apostrophes, rather that they keep springing up in all the wrong places.

Mr Richards, a former newspaper sub-editor, started his society when he kept seeing the same mistakes cropping up over and over again. He thought it would be of interest to half a dozen or so like-minded people, but he immediately attracted over 500 letters of support. Clearly he wasn’t the only one who thought that ‘cyclist’s dismount,’ ‘potato’s,’ Ladie’s,’ ‘the 1980’s,’ and the like, were crimes against the English language. However, in recent years, the interest in his society and accompanying website, has dwindled. Too many people now, he feels, either don’t know the rules and don’t care, or feel that the battle for correct usage is lost and it’s not worth getting agitated about.

Of course, there may be some people who deliberately use a wrongly placed apostrophe for effect, For example, the grocer advertising asparagu’s who claims he has increased his sales through the number of people who come in to his shop to point out his error.

For those who do care, but need a little refresher, here are the basic rules for using an apostrophe:

To indicate missing letter(s) – I’m writing. They’ve already gone.To denote a relationship – Mary’s husband. Dan’s dog.To indicate a time or quantity – Christmas is three weeks’ away. Two tons’ of cement.

It should not be used to denote a plural. And there is nothing missing after a numerical date; hence it is the 1800s, not 1800’s, for the eighteen hundreds.

John Richards may have started a well-earned retirement from his apostrophe regulation duties, but there are still people out there who do care and are carrying on trying to get things right, including the anonymous ‘Apostrophiser’ who continues to patrol Bristol, erasing misplaced apostrophes when he finds them to make the intended meaning clearer. After all, languages are living and living things change over time – but changes should enrich the language, not dilute meaning and cause confusion.

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