The Apostrophe and the Greengrocer


Often called the Greengrocer’s Apostrophe because it was seen on market stalls and greengrocers’ shops: carrot’s, onion’s, mushroom’s.

You can see apostrophes used wrongly in some of the most public places: on vans, shop fronts, and billboards. Not checking your punctuation before having something printed professionally can harm your credibility. Would you want the professional service in the image to print your signs? Have you spotted what’s wrong with it?

For us writers, it doesn’t take much to check on the correct usage; there are plenty of style books and books on grammar out there for us to use. Proofreading and editing should pick up any mistakes you have made and where there is uncertainty check and check again.

What is an apostrophe?

The Oxford Dictionary of English gives this definition:

noun a punctuation mark used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry’s book, boys’ coats) or the omission of letters or numbers (e.g. can’t, he’s, Jan. ’99)”


Apostrophes are used in place of missing letters, or when words are contracted. The word is printed without spaces.

we’ll (we will)

can’t (cannot)

won’t (will not)

isn’t (is not)

didn’t (did not)

it’s (it is)

There are many other examples, but I think you get the idea by now.

Where it is not used

The apostrophe is not used in plural words. There are exceptions, such as sheep – it has no plural form.




Taxis (more than one taxi)

Apostrophes (more than one apostrophe)

Other uses

It is acceptable to use an apostrophe where clarity is needed when referring to letters or symbols as objects.

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. (Dotting your is and crossing your ts might look a little confusing!)

1’s and 7’s look very much alike on my typewriter. (1s and 7s would look ok, but to a certain generation might look like a price – 1 shilling, 7 shillings)

a’s and u’s are different to each other. (If written as as and us it wouldn’t make sense.)

Now you’ve worked your way through the minefield that is the apostrophe, have you seen any glaringly obvious greengrocer’s apostrophes?

Do you have trouble remembering where one goes? Share your thoughts and observances with us.