What Is the Grocer's Apostrophe?

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
A grocer's apostrophe is a spelling mistake caused by placing an apostrophe before the s of a plural word.

Do not be tempted to use an apostrophe just because a word ends in "s." For example:
  • Two cats
  • (This is the plural of "cat.")
  • Two cat's
  • (This is not the plural of "cat.")
This error occurs with verbs too:
  • Time flies
  • Time fly's
Apostrophes are used to show possession (e.g., the cat's dinner) or to replace missing letters (e.g., don't).

The Grocer's Apostrophe

A grocer's apostrophe is a spelling mistake caused by placing an apostrophe before the s of a plural word. In English, the plural form of a word is most commonly shown by adding an s to the end (e.g., "cats," "bananas," "pictures"). Don't add your own apostrophe!

In other words, do not add 's to the end. Just add s.

The plural forms of words ending in vowels (e.g., "video," "patio") are extremely prone to this error. Forming a plural by adding 's is a common mistake, and it is considered a grammatical howler.

grocer's apostrophe error

Examples of Apostrophe Errors

Here are some examples of writing mistakes involving apostrophes:
  • Dog's look up to us, and cat's look down on us. I prefer pig's — they treat us as equal's. (badly transcribed version of a Winston Churchill quote)
  • Anteater's prefer termite's to ant's.
  • Pearl's melt in vinegar.
  • Rent two video's for the price of one.
  • Three large male lion's approached the 4x4.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's.
  • ("Dwarfs" or "dwarves" would have been okay here, but not "dwarf's" or "dwarve's.")

The Grocer's Apostrophe

As fruit and vegetable stalls often display this error, it has come to be known as the "grocer's apostrophe."
  • 2 melon's for a pound
  • 1 kg of apple's for a dollar

Slider Showing Apostrophe Error with Plurals

The following slider shows 11 pictures (mostly signs) with apostrophe errors:

Without the Grocer's Apostrophe

Here is an example with "tomatoes" spelled correctly (i.e., there's no grocer's apostrophe):

no grocer's apostrophe
(This is correct - except they're apples not tomatoes.)

When to Use Apostrophes

The rules on using apostrophes can be summarized: Read more about using apostrophes replacing letters. Read more about using apostrophes for possession. Read more about using apostrophes in time expressions. Read more about using apostrophes for awkward plurals.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Unusual plurals Using apostrophes Apostrophes in time (temporal) expressions Apostrophes replace letters Apostrophes to show the plural of abbreviations Apostrophes show possession