Grammar Tip – Apostrophes With Place Names

Several BizWritingTip readers have commented on the news story regarding the decision of a city in England to ban apostrophes from street signs. Apparently, the politicians in Birmingham have decided apostrophes on signs are dated and confusing.

The decision was the result of decades of debate and confusion surrounding punctuation on signs for local landmarks, such as St. Pauls Square or Acocks Green.

A number of grammarians are not pleased. They feel the resolution is a “dumbing down” of the English language.

However, other language experts — such as Katherine Barber, founding editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary — claim that because a place name is not really possessive, you can do without the apostrophe, if you wish.

For example, Queens Quay, in Toronto, is not really owned by the Queen. Therefore, omitting the apostrophe is acceptable. Think about the City of St. Catharines in Ontario or the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews in Manitoba – no apostrophes. And I don’t think St. Catharine or St. Andrew is particularly bothered.

Now, there are places in Canada that have kept the apostrophe, e.g., Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia and St. John’s in Newfoundland.

So Canadians can’t criticize Birmingham. We’re equally guilty of using or ignoring the apostrophe to suit the place.

Anyone been to Tim Hortons lately?

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