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Febbraio 2016
The Speak Up blog answers any questions you may have either about the English language or our articles. Write to us (preferably in English) at: http://blog.speakuponline.it. The most interesting questions will be published on this page. A word of warning, though: our blog is not a translation or homework service!

The vanishing  apostrophe - 1
I ‘ve been going to the UK every year for over 15 years now and I’ve witnessed the almost complete disappearance of the possessive genitive. I stayed at the Jury’s Inn which has now become “Jurys Inn,” bought “mens clothes” and so on. Why? Couldn’t this lack of an apostrophe lead to misunderstandings? Has it undergone the fate of the Italian subjunctive (congiuntivo)?

Yes, unfortunately apostrophes are dying out. It’s hard to say why this is happening, but if you want to read an amusing book about the decline of punctuation in general, then we recommend Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Grammar by Lynne Truss. It was a best seller, which would suggest that you are right.

The vanishing apostrophe - 2
Reading one of your past editorials entitled “La situazione è grammatica,” I was a bit taken aback by the “greengrocers’ apostrophes” issue. I have always taken for granted that “grocer’s” was just short for “grocer’s shop,” and I have always used expressions of that kind never thinking of being mistaken. Could you kindly explain the correct grammar rules about shops and their owners? I am progressively discovering that learning English is hard work, but I can’t stand the idea of not being able to say: “Vado dal macellaio!” Thanks in advance.

The reference to “greengrocers’ apostrophes” in the editorial wasn’t about the shop itself, so much as the errors that some greengrocers make in the signs advertising their produce. For example, it is not uncommon to find signs that say “Apple’s 80p lb (a pound)” when they should say “Apples.” Greengrocers (probably because they write their signs by hand) tend to make more mistakes than other shopkeepers! As for the store itself, you are right: people often say “I’m going to the greengrocer’s” or “I’m going to the hairdresser’s”. This is because these are abbreviations of, respectively, “greengrocer’s shop” and “hairdresser’s salon.” And so you can say “I’m going to the butcher’s.” Mother-tongue themselves tend to be more tolerant of (and more ignorant about!) grammatical errors than the Italians.

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