I don't mean to make it grammatically correct I mean does English need them?

I can't seem to find a use case other than it's "legacy" in English, but that is never a reason to keep something around.

For example, would there ever be a confusion of "hell" and "he'll"? What about "theyll" or "they'll" or "he's" and "hes".

A friend brought up this use case:

Tim: "How do I get up there?"
Rodney: { "Well think." | "We'll think." }

Except that is even flawed because technically "well" in the first example needs a comma after like:

Rodney: { "Well, think." | "We'll think." }

This would clear this confusion up.

I saw killtheapostrophe.com years ago and it got me thinking and so I brought it up with my grandmother, who has a Ph. D. in linguistics, and she agrees with him, however it got brought up again on Twitter and I was curious what others who love linguistics think about it.


5 Answers 5


I think the arguments on that site are pretty weak.

For one, the argument that "If you can't think of an example, there mustn't be one" is very poor. A lack of imagination does not constitute a robust argument.

In addition, the writer suggests replacing the pluralising 's' with a 'z', to get over the problem of singular and plural possessives. So, he's asking us to ditch the apostrophe and change pluralisation.

On top of that, the rationale for removing them are spurious at best:

  1. Redundant: Hardly makes the case for this, as noted above
  2. Costly: The idea that apostrophes makes up a considerable amount of a proof-reader's effort is bogus.
  3. Snobbery: Removing the apostrophe will hardly bring about a revolution in attitudes. Snobs don't need tools to be snobs.
  4. Text messaging: Citing the mores of txtspk as justification for eradicating a punctuation mark? Let's lose those pesky vowels, too, eh? Hell, Hawaii makes do with just 13 letters (if you include the 'okina (hello apostrophe!))
  5. Impeding communication: I can't speak generally to this, but I've never come across a situation where the presence of an apostrophe has made it difficult to understand something. Nor have I struggled to express myself when faced with a potential apostrophe hole
  6. Distraction: If the presence of misplaced apostrophes drives you to distraction, you probably have bigger issues to deal with than misplaced apostrophes.

Sure, sure, this is all pretty subjective. However, the very argument for removing apostrophes given on that site is riddled with straw men and subjective viewpoints.

In the absence of compelling reasons to remove the apostrophe, "legacy" becomes a very compelling reason to keep them.

  • 8
    +1 "A lack of imagination does not constitute a robust argument."
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 3, 2011 at 19:19
  • @Dancrumb: Nicely put - from start to finish! Jun 3, 2011 at 20:18
  • Very good points indeed. The site doesn't have great rationale, but had me thinking about it. Now about legacy, this is an interesting one. As a software engineer, if I can make something leaner, faster, and all around better without having to support a previous over-engineered product I'd drop it. Why keep something that doesn't need to be used? Almost like "code hoarding". Maybe I'm looking at it differently than an a linguists. :) But your points are well put. Jun 3, 2011 at 21:29
  • 2
    @Oscar Godson: Except we do have to support the previous product. We can't just flip a switch and suddenly everyone is using the New English. Plus, I am not convinced the proposal is "leaner, faster, and all-around better" than the status quo. Part of the point was that legacy becomes especially compelling if the advantages of the change are weak.
    – John Y
    Jun 3, 2011 at 22:01
  • 2
    @Oscar, funnily enough, I'm a software engineer too. I think your analogy is quite instructive. I'm sure you've suffered the pain of coming up with something that has benefits over a legacy system, only to find resistance from management because the cost of replacing the legacy system is too great (risk, training, inertia, etc). I think that, with linguistic conventions, you're facing a huge 'training' cost as well as the fact that there is no central authority to mandate it. As a result, benefits must be great and self-evident if a change is to take place.
    – Dancrumb
    Jun 3, 2011 at 23:00

@Dancrumb made a perfectly well-reasoned and appealing (to me) answer. I’ll just give a single example:

The dog’s bark warned them    vs.    The dogs’ bark warned them

So: yes, apostrophes are “needed”.

  • 4
    Or worse: "The dogs bark warned them" which makes no sense at all.
    – Alenanno
    Jun 3, 2011 at 19:23
  • 2
    @Alenanno, why, "to bark warn" is a nice verb :) Jun 3, 2011 at 19:33
  • @Cyril ahahah yeah, it might work...
    – Alenanno
    Jun 3, 2011 at 20:00
  • @Cyril: Definitely a nice 'compound verb'. Could even be indispensable if you needed to distinguish between your dogs bark warning you of a run-of-the-mill burglar, and whimper warning of an attack by 20-foot bug-eyed monsters. But as is so often the case, I think such neologisms would have to be ushered in gently, complete with hyphens for the first few decades. Jun 3, 2011 at 20:25
  • The link i provided mentions this and he offers an alternative (which I'm not fond of myself), but offers a z as a replacement. However, another point could be, could we drop it for everything except compound verbs? Just a thought :) Jun 3, 2011 at 21:31

The majority of punctuation is probably redundant as well but what would you rather read a book with no paragraphs no periods no commas no apostrophes etc or a properly punctuated book heres what it comes down to ease of comprehension yes you could figure out the no punctuation book just fine if you thought about it long enough but it would be a massive headache and require several extra hours to read the same book which leads me to believe that anyone who would advocate discontinuation of punctuation has never had a real job in their entire life if you wrote a technical manual or book intended to be read by computer or electrical engineers and it didnt have punctuation you would be the ridicule of the entire industry or at the very least the office

(There are most probably enough clues within the above text to figure out where the sentences begin and end, where the commas, apostrophes, etc. should go, etc. I trust that you are willing to figure it out!)

  • I read right through that fine in all honesty :) I might have even read it faster because there were no periods or commas since normally when I come across them I naturally pause. Jun 4, 2011 at 6:41
  • A perfect example of why people are naïve to think that punctuation is merely "decoration"!
    – Dog Lover
    Jun 25, 2015 at 1:34

No, apostrophes are-nt necessary, but if you do away with them, then in some situations you-re going to have to introduce other punctuation to disambiguate. There-s really no getting around that. I-d say the best bet is the hyphen, which-ll look immediately familiar if you happen to know some Romanian.

Wo-nt, do-nt, would-nt, are-nt, etc. have no real need for punctuation, but it does aid readability and makes the pronunciation more apparent—although [duənt] is-nt the commonest pronunciation of do-nt, so that one could be misleading. The contractions of would, will, are, is, has, and have would take a hyphen as well:

  • I-d like that.
  • I-ll do it.
  • You-re beautiful.
  • He-s just this guy, y-know?
  • She-s got the plague.
  • I could-ve died!

Plurals take no hyphen, and possessives simply add -s regardless of plurality:

  • The dog-s bark warned them.
  • The dogs-s bark warned them.

This is just one possible example of the kind of shift that would need to take place in order to actually do away with the apostrophe altogether. Really, what would the point of it be?


I can't seem to find a use case other than it's "legacy" in English…

That's ironic, since you have a use case right there within that sentence.

I can't seem to find a use case other than its "legacy" in English…

… would indicate that the legacy belongs to the use case, which is obviously not what you mean. But it would have been quite confusing had you forgotten the apostrophe!

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