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  • Writer's pictureLucy Jackman

When is it ok to use a comma in place of an apostrophe?

Picture this. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was zooming along the dual carriageway when something glistened and caught my eye.

It can’t be! It wasn’t, was it?

You’ll have to take my word for this. There’s no photographic evidence due to me driving at 40mph with no safe place to pull over. If you’d like to know where I was (to see for yourself) then get in touch.

I had just driven past a brightly coloured advertising board that said in big bold lettering,

“Liz,s Local Produce”

Yes, that’s right, Liz used a comma instead of an apostrophe.

I was horrified!

If you’re reading this post it’s probably for one of two reasons:

1. You want to learn about grammar, or

2. You care about grammar and its impact, like I do.

Here's why I think you should be alarmed and concerned about this example of poor punctuation.

The quality of your marketing reflects the quality of your business

I love home grown produce. It’s wholesome, sustainable and full of vitamins and minerals. It tastes pretty good too.

The fact that Liz has a punctuation error on her sign says to me that she doesn’t really care about the message she’s putting out there. To me, and to a lot of other people, the messaging we see is a reflection of the business it belongs to.

A lack of care with her communication puts doubts into my mind. Is Liz’s (note correct use of apostrophe) produce up to scratch? Does she pay the necessary care and attention to other areas of her business, for example, hygiene and health and safety standards?

Where there is doubt, the consumer will always think twice about doing business with you.

The printer doesn’t care

As part of my research for their website, a copywriting client shared a photo of a small batch of printed materials they'd just had delivered. Immediately, I noticed a glaring typo in the text. I wrestled with my conscience over whether to tell them about it.

On the one hand it was nothing to do with me, I didn’t write it. I didn’t want to be responsible for the client incurring the additional cost of a re-print. But it also has everything to do with me - I had a responsibility to do my best for the client. Plus, I would want to know if it was my own artwork. Wouldn’t you?

Printers might tell me it’s not their job to proof artwork for materials. That’s correct. But it IS your job to care about your customers and deliver quality materials, and to me quality means they don’t just look and feel good, they are accurate too.

Always use suppliers you can trust - who will go the extra mile to ensure you get a quality product or service for your money. If you don’t have the budget to employ a professional proofreader, ask someone you trust with an eye for detail to check over your materials before you push the button on the print run.

I told the client about the error. They were annoyed with themselves for getting it wrong, but very grateful it had been spotted before the materials landed with their customers.

If you know it’s not your strength, ask someone who can help

I understand not everyone is a whiz at spelling and grammar. There are many reasons why people find it difficult, which there isn’t time to address in this post. If writing and proofreading are not your strong point, I’d highly recommend finding a Shirley Sharp-Eyes to do this for you.

Accounting, graphic design and photography are not my strengths, so I employ people to do those things for me. When you stick to the tasks you know you’re good at, tasks are much more enjoyable and efficient.

Rant over!

I’m not trying to shame or belittle anyone's lack of skills in this post. I simply care deeply about the reputation of small businesses. Post-pandemic, the world of work is changing and small businesses are popping up all over the place. People are seeking a better work life balance and setting up on their own.

Please don’t risk the reputation of your fledgling (or growing) business by publishing poor quality materials - in any format.

To go back to my original question... I think I've made it pretty clear that it’s never OK to use a comma instead of an apostrophe.

Punctuation marks are not interchangeable. Putting them in the right place will set your business up for success.

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