Mystery of the darts player’s apostrophe

Sign in pub window showing misuse of the possessive apostrophe, reading Dart player's require

When it comes to apostrophes, this sign has ‘one foot in the frying pan and one on thin ice’, to quote the late, great darts commentator Sid Waddell

This pub sign is off target grammatically in its bid to find new players. To hit bullseye, it just needs an s, not an apostrophe.

  • One player required
  • Two players required

Yep, it’s the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’, so called because of signs offering apple’s, pears’, banana’s and carrots’.

In the case of the pub sign, the possessive apostrophe creates a mystery; is it ‘dart player’s throwing skills required’? or ‘dart player’s gold medallions…’,  or even ‘dart player’s fans, eating chicken-in-a-basket, required’?

Possessive apostrophes are tools to help us build descriptions.

Using ‘s after a person (subject) or thing (object), signals that we’re about to be told about something that belongs to her, him or it. That’s why it’s called ‘possessive’.

For example:

  • The player’s sweaty forehead was evidence of the soaring temperatures at Lakeside – What belongs to the player? The sweaty forehead.
  • The arrow’s flight was fast but inaccurate – What belongs to the arrow? The fast but faulty flight.
  • The crowd’s roar was deafening as he scored 180! – What belongs to the crowd? The roar.

Darts players required is correct, with no apostrophe and no mystery possession

The apostrophe jumps after the s – s’ – when you are talking about what belongs to more than one subject or object.

  • The players’ colourful shirts impress the crowd… The arrows’ flights were fast… The crowds’ roars were…

‘Darts players required’ is correct, with no apostrophe and no mystery possession.

A rogue possessive apostrophe doesn’t really matter on this sign because we can work out is meant by a friendly message in an informal environment.

But it does matter on your website, if you want to look credible and professional

But it does matter on your website, if you want to look credible and professional.

It could stop or slow down potential customers who are deciding if they like your service or product. It will annoy some people, who will go on about ‘the standard of English teaching these days’. Others will just laugh at you, and even those who don’t ‘know’ what is wrong will pause and subconsciously ask themselves ‘what’s that apostrophe for?’

So remember, plurals are your friends: they don’t need apostrophes, because in most cases a simple s does the job. If you use an apostrophe ‘just in case’, get used to asking yourself ‘am I just saying more than one?’

To finish with another line from Sid, whose words were never simple: ‘Look at the man go: it’s like trying to stop a water buffalo with a pea-shooter.’

Need help with your apostrophes? Contact Thomas Editing

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