A new ice cream stand opened recently near my home, just a short drive or bike ride away (and, some might say helpfully, located directly across the street from the local YMCA). After reading the many positive comments about the stand on Facebook, I had high hopes and expectations for the experience when my family visited for the first time a couple of weeks ago.
We walked up to the window to order, my kids chatting excitedly about the cool flavors they’d heard about. I looked up at the shiny new menu posted on the wall, and my heart immediately sank. Why? Let’s see if you can guess.
(I apologize for the quality of this and the rest of the photos in this post. Even on the best of days, I’m a terrible photographer.)
Hopefully, the problem is obvious.
I see this punctuation error committed all too often: use of an apostrophe to pluralize a word. Most often, it’s a word that ends in a vowel. Why? Nothing at this ice cream stand belongs to a sundae. There are very few instances where using an apostrophe to make a word plural is acceptable, such as pluralizing single letters (a’s, q’s) or numerals (4’s).
There are very few instances where using an apostrophe to make a word plural is acceptable, such as pluralizing single letters (a’s, q’s) or numerals (4’s). Check out this blog post by the Grammar Girl for a humorous and thorough discussion about apostrophes and plurals. Most of the time, however, an apostrophe followed by an “s” indicates possession, not pluralization.
Once I recovered from my initial disappointment over the misplaced apostrophes, I tried to look at the bright side. At least they were consistent, right? In both instances of the word “sundaes”, they used an apostrophe. But upon closer scrutiny of the menu, I realized that their reasoning (whatever that may have been) didn’t hold true for other pluralized words where a vowel came before the “s”:
Note that “Jimmies” and “Sprinkles”, which both have an “e” before the “s”, do not have an apostrophe. So much for consistency.
By this point, I had lost my appetite and politely declined when the girl at the window asked if I wanted anything. I tried to discreetly take a photo of the menu with my iPhone, but my 15-year-old daughter (who was also disgusted by the inappropriate apostrophe, but not enough to let it stand in the way of food) caught on to what I was doing and hissed at me to stop. Hence why I was not able to take a second picture with the flash turned off.
Lesson to be learned: always have someone proofread your work. Will “Sundae’s” keep anyone besides me from being a customer of this ice cream stand? Probably not. But what if this error had been made in a cover letter to a prospective employer, an ask letter to a potential donor, or a manuscript? Having a friend, colleague, or proofreader check for errors and inconsistencies that you may miss–or not even realize exist–is a simple and effective strategy for eliminating embarrassing and costly mistakes in your work.