The question for today (and unfortunately almost every working day) is: how can a person progress through the education system to degree level and beyond and still not know how to use an apostrophe?
This query has been provoked by tackling an enthralling and extremely well-researched biography focussing on a major player in a major event in Australia’s recent history.
After normal school, its author went on to college, graduated, did further studies, won two scholarships and achieved a postgraduate diploma as well as a couple of academic awards.
Later there were stints as a teacher at TAFE colleges, further awards and yet more university study culminating in graduating with a Master of Arts degree.
And yet the mysteries of the apostrophe remain, as indicated on almost every page of the manuscript now being edited.
What is so difficult about determining the difference between a plural and an apostrophe? Why is such a basic aspect of the English language not drilled home from the start of learning? Maybe it is because the teachers are as ignorant as those they are paid to teach, for this knowledge gap is nothing new.
Some tend to brush it aside as unimportant, unnecessary. But is essential to comprehension. There is, for example, a difference between the doctor’s patients and the doctors’ patients. Extend this phrase and the dilemma increases when needing to define whether we are talking about the doctor’s patient’s prescriptions or the doctor’s patients’ prescriptions or even the doctors’ patients’ prescriptions. In every instance the apostrophe is needed to ascertain precisely what is being referred to.
My author, like so many, tends simply to scatter apostrophes like buckshot, letting them rest where they fall on the page. In one line we may get the ship’s captain and in the next it becomes the ships’ captain. The true horror comes when an each-way bet is plumped for with the ship’s’ captain.
The people who commit these grammatical crimes are not brain-dead simpletons but “educated” products of our schools and universities. How did this happen? Why is it allowed to continue.
Teachers, get back to basics – but, first, perhaps do some learning on your own account.