The Grocers’ Plural

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 9:09 | Filed in Language, Life, Oddities, Standards

I found myself using one of these entirely my accident today, and then obviously berated myself appropriately. You know the sort of thing I mean: using apostrophe s to indicate a plural when obviously only the simple s is required.

I call it The Grocer’s Plural because that’s where I personally see it most often:

  • Apple’s: 6 for a £1
  • Strawberry’s: £2 for 3 punnets
  • Potatoes : £1 / 2kg
  • Satsuma’s: 10 for a £1

Many, many shops

Note the fact that over any array of signage of this nature there will nearly always be at least one entry that is perfectly correct (potatoes), and one that not only contains an additional apostrophe but also gets the plural form wrong (strawberry’s). Unfortunately, I’m no Joe Clark so I don’t have photos of signage (and nor would I recognise the typeface it came in, even if I did).

I don’t know about you, but this misuse of apostrophes really bugs me. I accept my use of language and punctuation isn’t perfect, so I’ve got no right to single this specific error out for scorn, but I do anyway. But I am prepared to admit I’m not being fair about it.

If it’s any consolation, I did have quite an internal debate on where to put the apostrophe in “Grocers’ Plural”. I eventually settled on this use because “Grocer’s Plural” would refer to the plural form belonging to a single grocer, and I obviously wanted to refer to grocers as a whole.

It’s a ridiculous over-generalisation, I know, but that’s where I most encounter it. Does anyone know whether there is a specific term for this particular abuse of the apostrophe? Or can you come up with a better term than “Grrocers’ Plural”? If so, let me know …

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6 Comments to The Grocers’ Plural

  1. Mike says:

    October 25th, 2006 at 10:05 am

    I’ve always known it as ‘the greengrocer’s apostrophe’. Sounds like you should read ‘Eats Shoots And Leaves‘, you’ll love it.

  2. Steve says:

    October 25th, 2006 at 11:48 am

    There’s a hut in Weston-Super-Mare that has ice cream’s painted on top of it. So ice cream vendors are guilty too…

    But most alarming for me is web editor’s plural, where you see things on the web like links to other website’s

  3. Steve says:

    October 25th, 2006 at 11:49 am

    Sorry, should that be web editors’ plural?

  4. Mike Cherim says:

    October 25th, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    Hot topic for me, Jack :)

    Proper usage is almost a science.
    The man’s coat was in the closet.
    He used the men’s restroom.
    The skis’ bindings were rusted.
    The sky’s the limit.
    The skies were clear.
    Chris’s name has five letters.
    Sue’s has three letters.
    A gaggle of grocers gathered.
    I swear it moved on its own.
    It’s high time this was discussed.

  5. Tim Beadle says:

    November 3rd, 2006 at 5:50 pm


    There’s at least one Flickr Group devoted to this. I’m in these ones:

    +1 on reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

  6. Luther Von Ruckerson says:

    March 25th, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    I call it the “rural plural”. I see it on signs in small towns all the time.

    It is charming in that setting; it is alarming when used by supposedly educated people.

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