‘An Apostrophe Is The Difference Between…’

‘An Apostrophe Is The Difference Between…’

…”a business that knows its shit and a business that knows it’s shit.” Put another way, the devil is in the details and paying attention to fine points (grammar or otherwise) can make or break you.

Blogger Sam Tanner tweeted a couple of days ago — for International Apostrophe Day, apparently: “An apostrophe is the difference between a business that knows its shit and a business that knows it’s shit.” This applies especially to those little careless mistakes that really matter — ones on new business proposals, resumes, introduction emails, etc.

One of the most memorable stories a former boss told me was of a big client who turned down an advertising pitch because of just one misspelled word: If that one word was misspelled, the client reasoned, how could he trust handing over a whole campaign?

Everyone’s prone to making little mistakes when rushing, but the moral of the story is that if you don’t think of your business or career as shit, make sure you double-check (or triple-check) your stuff when it counts the most. Not sure what’s right and what’s wrong? Check out our guide to using apostrophes correctly.

[via @sam_tanner_]


  • I would say that people should actually get other people to check their work rather than do it themselves. One service I provide is proof reading; I’m very good at it. I quickly learned though, there is little point in proofing you own work, and it becomes increasingly pointless as the length and complexity of a document increases. People tend to skim over areas they assume are correct.

    On an interesting note, I produce a lot of educational resources. The WORST writers are teachers, and the worst of those are deputy principals. This is also especially true of English teachers, from whom I used to expect much higher standards.

    • +1 for getting other people to check your work.

      I used to have a boss who would compose company wide emails and then check them by reading them out to us (as opposed to sending them to us for correction). Inevitably he’d read what he WANTED it to say, not what it actually said. The whole department looked like a pack of muppets when he’d send out things with poor grammar, spelling and mixed/contradicting messages.

    • For example, you just proofed your own work and I just found:

      “there is little point in proofing you own work”

      Which really should be:

      “there is little point in proofing YOUR own work”

      Little things make a difference 😉

    • Are you kidding me? A few bad apples don’t spoil the bunch. I’m an English teacher, and I have been writing grammatically perfect sentences since 4th grade. You’re a jerk.

      • I believe that idiom is that one rotten apple spoils the barrel, not the bunch. Perhaps because apples don’t come in bunches.

        This said, I’m not an English teacher so I could be mistaken.

      • lynne, that would be “gramatically-perfect sentences”. You missed the hyphen. So did you just now end your perfect career, or are you simply mistaken in your belief? And names are proper nouns and start with a capital, dear. Perhaps more study of the English language is in order.

  • Spelling, grammar and punctuation is all fugged today. I quit a job because I was too embarrassed to work for someone who completely murdered the English language. Her excuse was that she “didn’t have time to check that shit and people will understand what I’m on about”. She didn’t know the difference between archive or achieve and she loved to obliterate cliches – “I’m just going to go in there all guns and roses” was a personal favourite.

  • The new national curriculum — purported to include major improvements to the teaching of grammar and spelling (i.e. bringing them back from oblivion) — cannot come soon enough.

    In years gone by English teachers were, by and large, stalwarts for correct spelling and punctuation. The current crop couldn’t be trusted to spell “stalwarts” without at least one apostrophe. To think these people are employed to teach English to our kids… It’s an absolute disgrace.

    • There is zero research support for direct grammar and spelling instruction. One’s grammatical and spelling skills improve with one thing: reading. Lots and lots of reading.

      • Bob – That’s what I thought, but my husband and sons are all avid readers but very ordinary punctuators. There has to be someone who fosters an understanding of how to do it properly – and why. Can’t say I can remember everything I learned about parsing, but the fact I did learn it has stood me in good stead for 50 years. Realised a bit late that I was the only person who cared enough to try and set my sons straight on the subject – slowly getting there!

  • I have been more tolerant of grammar knuckleheads recently; these people have their uses. They might misuse an apostrophe, but it’s a mistake to characterize their entirety by such a small error. After all, if the toilet’s overflowing, you don’t call an English professor.

  • Isn’t the possessive of “it” actually its’? Its without the apostrophe would, grammatically anyway, refer to more than one it. SO, the CORRECT usage should be “A company that knows its’ shit”

    it’s = it is
    its’ = possessive it
    its = more than one it (also them in other contexts)

  • Another cartoony how-to guide:

    @Elron Steeke
    “It’s” seems to be the case that confuses a lot of people who otherwise understand how apostrophes should be used.

    The easiest way to get it right every time is to remember that the ONLY time “it’s” has an apostrophe anywhere is when used as a contraction for “it is”. It never has an apostrophe when indicating possession and never has the apostrophe at the end.

    • Ostensibly instructional webpages like that Oatmeal one annoy me because they themselves contain errors. I can’t access it at work but from memory, the Oatmeal advises that referring to letters as, for example, “p’s and q’s” is acceptable, whereas the way I understand English this is not the case. It should be either “”P”s and “Q”s”, “‘P’s and ‘Q’s” or “Ps and Qs”. Adding a single apostrophe, “for clarity,” is not acceptable.

  • Not exactly a grammar or punctuation mistake, but in the past we rejected a job applicant who confused “complimentary” with “complementary” on both her cover letter and her résumé. That’s one that drives me absolutely insane. Another is the confused use of “reigns” for “reins”, as in “the reigns of power.” Aaarrrggghhh!

  • English is one of the hardest languages to learn. It wasn’t constructed with the same kind of logic and flow that went into other languages, but rather cobbled together from pieces of other languages. It’s got Germanic structure but Latin vocabulary, and more contradictions than rules. But it’s a language, and it can be learned and used correctly. At some point some fools decided it was more important to encourage creativity and confidence than to correct a student’s spelling and grammar. So now we have a generation of semiliterate people confidently and creatively abusing the language and looking like idiots to those of us who did learn to use it correctly, and having their job application rejected. Bravo! Stellar achievement in confidence building. And the sad part is, it’s not as if this generation will all end up in menial jobs and fade away; no, they’ll become the population and their damaged language will become the norm. You can already see mistakes in ads by large companies that can afford an editor. Apparently they no longer think it makes them look unprofessional. Sadly, they’re increasing correct.
    Languages evolve, and maybe English more than others (wouldst thou agree?), but really, should we accept needless decay as normal evolution?

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