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When Should A Sign Have An Apostrophe?

05/11/19

The correct use of apostrophes seems to be one of the basics of punctuation that an awful lot of people struggle with. It’s a problem so commonly associated with signage that an incorrectly used apostrophe is often referred to as a green grocer’s apostrophe - referring to the tendency of shopkeepers to incorrectly add an apostrophe to their produce signs and labels when they are including an s to pluralise the word.

An apostrophe before an s shows possession rather than plural, therefore an apostrophe on a shop sign is generally indicating the shop belongs to a certain person or family. One of the best examples of this is Sainsbury’s - the shop takes it’s name from being the shop (or chain of shops) belonging to Mr J Sainsbury.

So shop names with a person’s name in become fairly clear, if you are Mrs Robinson and run Robinson’s Butchers Shop the apostrophe used on Robinson’s shows who owns the shop. It can get a bit more confusing when looking just at a business name though. For example if you opened a shop called The Tech Wizards for a shop offering gadgets and IT repairs the name could have an apostrophe in two possible places and be correct, but could also be written without the apostrophe and still be correct. This type of scenario is probably what confuses people more, however if you break it down logically it becomes fairly simple:

Tech Wizard-01

A shop where you will find more than one Tech Wizard

Tech Wizard-02

A shop belonging to the Tech Wizard

Tech Wizard-03

A shop belonging to more than one Tech Wizard

Remember, this is all about business names and if you look at most modern business names you’ll notice they tend not to use apostrophes. This gives a good rule if you are still confused, if in doubt leave the apostrophe out. Even businesses that use a person’s name these days tend to not include a possessive - our own business name comes from our founder’s name but has never used the possessive as it works just as well without it.

In 2012 Waterstones caused got a lot of negative attention for dropping the apostrophe from their name. Most of this was because the nature of their business involves the written word, some people thought that the apostrophe was grammatically correct and should therefore be kept. There is certain weight to the argument but it rapidly falls apart when you consider that the name is now used as a standalone word, if the business name was Waterstones Bookshops or something similar the argument would have more weight. It’s unlikely that many other businesses would come under the same level of fire for such a branding choice, but given their connection to the written word it’s not surprising that some people would hold Waterstones to a higher level of grammatical standards.

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