My Biggest Punctuation Pet Peeve (That You Probably Do)

I’m not a perfect writer, I’ll admit it.  I occasionally misuse affect and effect, and I am a terrible speller (thank goodness for spell check).  But there are certain things that irk me when I see them, and there is one thing that I’m seeing a lot of lately: the misused apostrophe after an acronym.


Apostrophe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think the reason this particular error bothers me so much is that I see it used often by intelligent people who would never make the error of using ‘s for a normal non-possessive.  While there are still plenty people out there who would write “chicken’s for sale” and sadly not realize their mistake, I expect that there are other glaring errors they would make as well.  In the case of the ‘s after an acronym, however, I see it with my highly intelligent coworkers with degrees in economics, statistics, and computer science.

A friend of mine commented on a Facebook post the other day and misused the apostrophe in this same way.  I couldn’t help but point it out.  I tried to be nice about it, but I couldn’t hold myself back from saying something since I get a full dose of it at work all the time.  My friend seemed grateful for the information, thankfully, but it made me think about why so many intelligent people who don’t make other punctuation mistakes make this one.  I think it’s because this mistake has become so widespread that most people don’t think it’s incorrect because they see it so often.  Part of the reason for this confusion is likely due to certain exceptions to the rule (not to mention certain reputable institutions flouting the rule – see Catastrophe for the apostrophe to learn more).

Here are the rules:

The apostrophe should never be used to form a plural, whether with an acronym or not.

Example 1 – It is not possessive

Incorrect: The SAT’s are a test all students need to take.

Correct: The SATs are a test all students need to take.

However, there are a few exceptions that may have allowed this to enter common use with both numbers and letters.  The exceptions are generally for clarity.

Example 2 – Plurals of single numbers

He got four 7’s in Go Fish.

Example 3 – Plurals of single letters

Mind your p’s and q’s.

The best guide I’ve found so far is over at

Since the use of the apostrophe after an acronym is becoming so widespread, I could see it entering acceptable use at some point.  After all, language is living.  For the meantime, I’ll continue to be a stickler about it.

What are some grammar pet peeves that you have?  Anything you see often that drive you nuts?  What do you think about the possessive ‘s after an acronym?

6 Responses to “My Biggest Punctuation Pet Peeve (That You Probably Do)”
  1. You know, I graduated as an English major. And I’ve had to read my share of college essays, etc, especially for honor society applications. It’s simply amazing how many college graduates with good GPAs don’t understand basic grammar. And we’re not talking typos. We’re talking people who can’t write complete sentences at the age of twenty-one.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kate. I agree, it’s really shocking what you see sometimes. I would hope that by the time a student finishes college that they would know how to write, but considering some of the struggles of our education system maybe it’s not too surprising.

      An online community I am in posed the question of whether or not bad grammar stops you from doing business with someone, and my answer was: “Yes, absolutely!” Even if I go to a website for a restaurant or something, if it’s full of bad grammar it makes me not want to eat there. In my marketing job, I’ve gotten plenty of emails regarding increasing press release exposure, among other things, and it’s shocking how many people in business make common mistakes.

  2. gilmiller says:

    I’d have to say one of my pet peeves—besides the one you mentioned, that is—is not knowing the difference between “it’s” and “Its.” Granted this is a tough one, since possessives normally have apostrophes. However, in this case, “it’s” is a contraction for “It is,” while “its” is possessive. I’m bad to do it in my first drafts sometimes, especially when the writing’s going good. I generally catch them on my proofread—and feel embarrassed, even if I’m the only one to see them.

    Another one that I see a lot is “nauseated” and “nauseous.” Considering how often I see it in published works, I think there’s a great misunderstanding about the proper use of the word. If you’re nauseous, that means you cause nausea. But if you have nausea, then you are nauseated.

    Oh, and one more: “alright.” I’ve been known to throw a book across the room on this one. The proper way is “all right.”

    And I’ll quit complaining now lol.

    • bahia says:

      Thanks for commenting! Some of these drive me nuts as well. I’m the same as you, sometimes the wrong Its/It’s creeps into first drafts when I’m typing too fast. “Alright” is up there with “alot” – and these are ones so many people get wrong. I just noticed that my Google spell-check does not mark “alright” as incorrect! Now, I have to admit that I learned something from your comment. Apparently I’ve been using “nauseous” incorrectly. It’s misuse seems to be so wide-spread that I didn’t even realize it. Now that you’ve mentioned it (and I looked it up), I’ll never make that mistake again!

  3. R says:

    If you use yahoomail (or is it Yahoo Mail?) DO NOT rely on the spell checker. I have had it tell me, more times than I can recall, that this or that normal, regular word is either non existent or spelled incorrectly. I wish I could recall an example off the top of my head, but I haven’t used it for a long time.

    Someone above used “gotten”. The way they used it looked perfectly correct, but I always struggle with this one. (Just ‘got’? ‘Gotten’ sometimes?)

    • bahia says:

      Yeah, I have noticed that some of the online spell checkers don’t work perfectly. You can never be too vigilant! Unfortunately I am not a very good speller so I rely on spell-check a lot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: