When do you need one to make a word plural? Almost never.
Jeff Deck adds the missing apostrophe to a sign in Wicker Park in 2008. He and his friend Benjamin Herson were traveling across the country correcting spelling errors and have written a book about it called "The Great Typo Hunt." (Tribune photo by Abel Uribe)
First off, are they all-inclusive farmers' markets? Apostrophe-free farmers markets? Singular farmer's markets, implying that one lonely farmer has shown up to hawk his or her goods? We've seen all three, often at the same event.
The real apostrophe land mines, though, are placed throughout the sprawling mass of charming tents: "Tomatoe's: $4.99 per pound." "Fresh peach pie's!" "Organic plum's: 3 for $1."
It's a problem. And not one that's limited to produce peddlers.
Sarah Alcock from Tallahassee, Fla., recently emailed with the following plea: "You would do civilization a great service if you would explain that use of an apostrophe and an 's' is not a proper method to form a plural."
Which is nice, because we've been looking for ways to do civilization a great service—preferably ways that don't involve talking to clipboard-wielding activists on Michigan Avenue. ("Sorry! I don't actually have time for human rights today!" Wait. Hmm.)
Anyway, back to the apostrophe.
"It is everywhere," Alcock wrote, "from coffee shops (Place dirty mug's on the tray) to business meetings (All team member's should turn in proposals Thursday). But it's especially galling at schools. I would hope those teaching our children would understand the error of 'Parent's, please sign up to bring something for the class party.'"
There are times when an apostrophe is necessary to pluralize a word; if you're forming the plural of a single letter, for example. The Chicago Manual of Style offers the following examples: "Mind your p's and q's." "Dot your i's and cross your t's."
Also with certain words that require an apostrophe for clarity. "His speech had too many if's, and's and but's," for example. Or "Tim had enough of her 'maybe's'," according to the Chicago Manual of Style.
Beyond that, apostrophes should be saved for plural words that are also possessive. "We're grateful for parents' involvement at the upcoming class party!" That works. Or … "Parents, please sign up to bring something for the class party." There you go.
In the spirit of great service, we offer this quick apostrophe primer from the Tribune's stylebook punctuation guide.
•A singular or plural noun not ending in "s" takes apostrophe "s": the girl's toys, the fox's food, Butz's policies, the children's hour, women's rights.
•A singular or plural noun ending in "s" takes just an apostrophe: Dickens' novels, the hostess' invitation, the Americans' predicament.
•Do not use an apostrophe with the possessive forms of personal and relative pronouns: hers, his, its, mine, whose, yours.
You're welcome, civilization.