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What Is the Grocer's Apostrophe?

homesitemapcommon errors grocer's apostrophe

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 correct tick
  • (This is the plural of "cat.")
  • Two cat's wrong cross
  • (This is not the plural of "cat.")
This error occurs with verbs too:
  • Time flies correct tick
  • Time fly's wrong cross
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. Read more about forming plurals in English. 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. wrong cross (badly transcribed version of a Winston Churchill quote)
  • Anteater's prefer termite's to ant's. wrong cross
  • Pearl's melt in vinegar. wrong cross
  • Rent two video's for the price of one. wrong cross
  • Three large male lion's approached the 4x4. wrong cross
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's. wrong cross
  • ("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 wrong cross
  • 1 kg of apple's for a dollar wrong cross

More Examples Showing Apostrophe Errors with Plurals

This is an example of a grocer's apostrophe. It should be "apples" not "apple's."
This is an example of a grocer's apostrophe. It should be "bananas" not "banana's."
This is an old picture, but it's a classic. How did the sign-writer get this wrong?
Words that end in vowels are particularly prone to this error.
Oh, come on! If it's your job to create shop signs, get the basics right.
Mango's, plum's, lime's, and pair's [sic]. This is a festival of grocer's apostrophes!
Some people should known better.
A word that ends in a vowel is more likely to attracting this mistake.
Someone spent time carving out those letters. It's a nice sign. But...
Here's one more grocer's apostrophe to end the table.

Without the Grocer's Apostrophe

Here is an example with "tomatoes" spelled correctly (i.e., there's no grocer's apostrophe):
This is correct — except they're apples not tomatoes! no grocer's apostrophe

When to Use Apostrophes

There are four reasons to use an apostrophe:

(1) To replace missing letters

For example:
  • aren't
  • isn't
  • can't
Read more about using apostrophes replacing letters.

(2) To show possession

For example:
  • Sarah's jumper
  • The dog's toy
  • The dogs' kennel
Read more about using apostrophes for possession.

(3) To create a temporal (or time) expression

For example:
  • 3 months' wages
  • A day's leave
  • 2 days' notice
Read more about using apostrophes in time expressions.

(4) To show an awkward plural

For example:
  • BUY THREE CD'S.
  • Mind your p's and q's.
  • Your 5's look like 6's.

Warning

  • Using an apostrophe for an awkward plural is a highly unpopular practice, even though it is condoned by all the leading grammar references.
Read more about using apostrophes for awkward plurals.
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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