Is ‘you’re’ in the sign right or wrong? Or ‘Apostrophes and how to use them’


Are you one of the thousands of people who don’t know that ‘you’re’ in the sign in the photo is wrong? Because yes, it is wrong. It should be ‘your’.

Why? Because it’s a possessive, not a verb. ‘You’re’ is a contraction, or shortening, of ‘you are’. The apostrophe stands for the ‘a’, or whatever is missed out in a contraction. If you think of it that way, you can see that ‘You are new Duke of Devonshire Arms Opening mid-June’ wouldn’t make sense.

By the way, to UK readers it’s pretty obvious that this is a sign announcing that the local pub, called the Duke of Devonshire Arms, is being refurbished and will re-open in the middle of June. To non-native learners of English, this might not be so obvious, so this use of ‘you’re’ instead of ‘your’ would probably be quite confusing for them.

Actually, non-native students of English would probably not make this mistake, because they have been taught to get punctuation and grammar right. They have to pay a lot of attention to this type of thing, whereas lots of native speakers of English, certainly speakers of British English, dot apostrophes about in all kinds of unlikely places.

The so-called ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ – ugh!

For example, there is a really strong tendency for people writing signs or menus to use an apostrophe for a straightforward plural, so in the UK we see an awful lot of menus offering things such as ‘salad’s’ or ‘hamburger’s’. This used to be called the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’, because signs showing the price of fruit and veg often had a mistake like this:

POTATO’S £1.50 per kg

But now this mistake – and it can only be called a mistake, really – it should of course be POTATOES – is EVERYWHERE. It drives me mad. I’m one of those people who takes a red pen around with them to correct this gross error of grammar. Sorry, but it has to be done.

Bristol’s grammar vigilante

In and around Bristol, there is someone who goes out secretly at night to correct – usually to delete – wrong apostrophes on signs. Armed with a ladder, he climbs up to any offending signs and covers up apostrophes that are being used to form the plural of nouns.

Bristol's grammar vigilante

Good on him, I say.

Of course, there’s a lot more to be said about apostrophes. If you can bear it, there will be more on this subject in future blogs …

Again, I’d like to know from our American informants, whether this happens in the US. I think not, but you never know.

As ever, please comment, preferably directly into the blog, and follow me if you want to share my thoughts on grammar and language change.

2 thoughts on “Is ‘you’re’ in the sign right or wrong? Or ‘Apostrophes and how to use them’

  1. Thanks Della. Photo? Agree about apostrophes. Another thing that annoys me is ‘fed up of’ rather than ‘with’. Is the former correct?

  2. No, it should be ‘with’, same as ‘bored’. Lots of people are annoyed by this mistake, but lots more people think it is common usage and therefore acceptable, in speech, at least. Of course, what is spoken is much more common and will then become accepted in writing as well…

    Thanks for your comment.

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