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Greg Black

gjb at gbch dot net
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Tue, 07 Sep 2004

Adrian, spot the mistake

I enjoy reading Adrian Sutton’s blog. It’s full of interesting stuff, even when I think he’s wrong. The thing that spoils it for me, however, is the regular misuse of the apostrophe. So here’s a little tutorial—it’s aimed at all the people who don’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s”, not just Adrian.

Taking a pair of examples from Adrian’s blog post on regexes, look at this sentence fragment:

I’ve been playing around with writing a mini-wiki that uses the full compliment of HTML as it’s syntax […]
There are two apostrophes there. The first one is correct—the apostrophe in “I’ve” shows that it’s an abbreviated form of “I have”. The second one is incorrect, as there’s no abbreviation there. The word “its” in this context is just like “his” and has no apostrophe for the same reason—it’s a word. The only time where you use “it’s” with the apostrophe is in the case where it’s an abbreviation for “it is”—just as is the case in this very sentence.

I know that it’s now common to put this incorrect apostrophe in all over the place, but it’s still wrong; and it certainly does detract from the reading experience. And I know that most people don’t care. But I do care and I end up just turning off from reading material where this kind of error is common. Just as we programmers have to learn to spell correctly when we write C or perversions such as Perl or Java, we should also be able to manage to write English correctly. Saying it right makes it easier to communicate our ideas effectively.