Beware the Apostrofly! says Pedantique-Ryter

grocers apostrophe

Occasional Writing Tips from Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter : #1 The Apostrofly

The apostrofly is a nasty but industrious little insect. She can lay her eggs almost anywhere — she’s not picky about nest sites, though she is rumoured to be fond of the greengrocer’s veg display — and her eggs hatch out into little black maggots that try to crawl all over a writer’s perfect pages.

apostroflee beats apostrofly


There is, sadly, no easy solution. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use a can of insecticide and kill them all off?

One quick spritz of Miracle Apostroflee and all the incorrect apostrophes disappear from the page while any missing ones are inserted in exactly the right places.



Not a chance.



Sadly, it’s more like going out with a torch at midnight to pick little black slugs off your precious cabbage seedlings, one by one. Yucky business, takes a while, your back aches at the end of it and your only real satisfaction is dropping the little bodies into the salt water that will kill them.

But there are tests and tips that can make the task less back-breaking.

Apostrofly tip #1 — when it’s its not it’s — the always-and-only test

The apostrophe always[†] tells us there’s something missing. So it’s is a shortened form of it is. Always. And only. Unless you can replace your it’s with it is, then the apostrophe should come out and the correct version is its. Always-and-only. NO exceptions. NONE.

Gotcha apostrofly!

Gotcha apostrofly!

“But it’s is a possessive!” I hear you cry. “How can it be wrong to write: the apostrofly left it’s pile of poo on my page?”

Answer — would you write: “The apostrofly left hi’s pile of poo on my page?” Isn’t his a possessive, too? So why no apostrophe?

There’s no apostrophe, because there’s nothing missing.

If you’re still not convinced, apply Pedantique-Ryter’s always-and-only-it-is test. Replace it’s with it is. That sentence becomes: “The apostrofly left it is pile of poo on my page.” And we’ve found our instant answer. It’s obvious that the sentence has turned into nonsense.
The correct version is not it’s; it’s its.fanfare of trumpets for apostrofly test #1

“The apostrofly left its pile of poo on my page.”

Well, it tried, but we’ve discovered how to clean it up. Instantly and painlessly.
Fanfare of trumpets!


The always-and-only-it-is test tells you whether it’s its or it’s.

Apostrofly tip #2 — ‘s or s’ — the what-do-you-say test

Should we write James’s book? or James’ book? Is it correct to have St Thomas’ Hospital up there as the branding or should it be St Thomas’s Hospital? What about his mistress’s house’s sexy boudoir? Or should that be his mistress’ house’s sexy boudoir? Or even his mistress’ house’ sexy boudoir?

Stressed Woman Pulling Her HairHair-tearing moment, anyone?

Pat your poor tormented coiffure back into place and apply Pedantique-Ryter’s what-do-you-say test. Say the phrase out loud. Do you actually say: Jamez book? No. What you actually say is: Jamezez book. So write what you say. Write: James’s book. Do you say: Saint Thomas Hospital? No. What you actually say is: Saint Thomasez Hospital. So write: St Thomas’s Hospital. And yes, I do know that the sign on that blessed hospital does not have the ‘s. I commuted past it for years and it raised my blood pressure every single time because they are committing A Hanging Offence in the Pedantique-Ryter Book of Paines and Penaltyes. (OK — end of rant.)

st thomas hospital

No one’s told them that that missing S is A Hanging Offence

Same for his mistress’s house’s sexy boudoir. Except that most writers would never use something so clumsy. In most contexts, the sexy boudoir tucked away in his mistress’s house, or something like that, would be much better. But his mistressez housez sexy boudoir is what we say aloud so his mistress’s house’s sexy boudoir is what we should write. Even if we groan while we do so.

The what-do-you-say test tells you when it’s ‘s not s’.

thank you for reading about how to avoid the apostrofly



Back soon with more writing tips and tools
I. Pedantique-Ryter

[†] Pedantique-Ryter’s Don’t-Need-To-Read Geeknotes #1I Want More Concept

Yes, the apostrophe does always indicate that something is missing. Even in a phrase like John’s book or his master’s voice. Way back when English was just a tantrumming toddler of a language, the formulation for a possessive was rather a mouthful. Early English used: John his book or his master his voice. Not surprisingly, it soon got shortened in the spoken language and the possessive his became little more than an additional s or z sound on the end of the main word. But in the written form, the apostrophe is still used to show that his has been shortened to s. Now, aren’t you just thrilled that you read this far?

14 thoughts on “Beware the Apostrofly! says Pedantique-Ryter

    1. Pedantique-Ryter Post author

      *waves graciously*
      As long as you make sure you remember the rules, dear child, all will be well.

  1. Elizabeth Bailey

    Oh, Dame Isadora, you are a total gem! It’s and its I knew perfectly. But James’ and James’s have flummoxed me for years. Hooray! And how wonderful to have a logical explanation for the apostrophe substituting for his. Shall be following Pedantique-Ryter tips with great interest.

    1. Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter Post author

      That is, of course, what gurus are for, but I am content to accept your plaudit in the spirit in which it is given. Thank you, my dear gel.

  2. Christina Hollis

    Thank you, Dame Isadora. That’s a great help, although I’m still having a problem with St Albans (as the actress said to the bishop). On the basis we don’t say “St Albanzez”, it can’t need an apostrophe, although as the saint’s name is “Alban”, why the “s”? PS: You couldn’t work the same magic on “practice” and “practise”, could you? 😀

    1. Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter Post author

      An interesting question, Christina. St Albans would originally have been St Alban’s [city/abbey/place] in the same way that Harrods was originally Harrod’s [shop]. Over the last 100 years or so, it has increasingly become the practice (practice with a C!) to drop the apostrophe in such proper names but to keep the S, presumably because people were used to saying it. From a purist’s point of view, it might not be strictly correct, but language is always developing. I don’t think a rearguard action on the missing apostrophe in St Albans would be a good use of our forces, do you?

      I will add practice/practise to my list of possible future topics. Thank you for the suggestion.

  3. Annie Burrows

    Thank you so much, Dame Isadora. Could you consider, one day, perchance, giving advice as to what do do when passing a shop (or indeed hospital) with glaring, blood-pressure inducing incorrect use of apostrophes? I have tried both issuing earplugs to my driver, to mitigate damage caused by my screams of outrage, and indeed altering my route so I do not have to pass the worst offenders.
    Yours gratefully, A Writer

    1. Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter Post author

      I’m afraid that I have no additional advice to offer. Even I (as was perhaps not made clear enough in my blog) have suffered the high-blood-pressure-inducing effects of the apostrofly and I was unable to find a remedy other than avoiding the scene. However, unlike yourself, I was not important enough to be provided with a driver in those days, so I did not have to invest in earplugs.

      One might sympathise with the exasperated graffiti artist who would correct the offensive errors with spray paint, but, in my position, I could never, NEVER suggest than any writer follow suit. Especially not in daylight.

    1. Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter Post author

      I leave such menial tasks to the members of the Libertà hive but thank you for your well-intentioned advice.

  4. Sue McCormick

    I tried to respond earlier. I am in total agreement with it’s vs. its and will follow your advice when I’m confused.

    I do not wish to be argumentative; I’m somewhat confused as to the Thomas’ vs Thomas’s issue. This may be a matter of the time of one’s education? When I was in elementary school in the 1930s (although I said Thomases book, I was taught to write Thomas’s book. But I SAID and wrote James’ book and still say it that way.

    Do I now understand that I am no longer in tune with the style sheets? I’m getting old, but I can change.

    1. Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter Post author

      Interesting, Sue. I’m aware that some teachers of grammar and punctuation (in the days when such things were regularly taught!) used a straightforward rule that if a word ended in S or ES, the possessive was formed by adding just an apostrophe. They prescribed St Francis’ vow of poverty, for example. However, that doesn’t explain why you were taught Thomas’s but also James’. I find that very strange. Especially as James’s is one of those that has maintained its ‘S almost everywhere. Ambassadors are accredited to the Court of St James’s, for example, and we have St James’s Palace and St James’s Park. The wonderful London Library gives its address, correctly I believe, as 14 St James’s Square.

      Sadly, even I am unable to deconfuse you on this. But I suggest that, with your decades of wisdom, you may write and say whatever you like.

      1. Sue McCormick

        Thank you for referring to the “decades” of wisdom. It may help (or it may confuse us further) if I add that my Education was in St. Louis, Missouri (U. S. A.) Henry Higgins was almost right, We don’t speak “pure” English in America (either side of the border). On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that no English-speaking country does. We ALL have our national quirks.

        I am a copy-editor (retired), so I feel obligated to keep my language as modern as I can.

        Thanks for this post.

        1. Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter Post author

          “National quirks” may indeed be the answer, Sue, especially quirks of educational systems. I do not claim to be infallible on everything and certainly not on American-English usage.

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