Posted by: christinelaennec | December 4, 2012

A trip down apostrophe lane

Last week I had occasion to go by the first street we lived on when we came to Aberdeen over 20 years ago,  Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place:

Wrights' and Coopers' Place, Old Aberdeen.  November 2012.

Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place, Old Aberdeen. November 2012.

It is a very picturesque little lane.  We lived at the far end:

Wrights' and Coopers' Place, Old Aberdeen.  November 2012.

Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place, Old Aberdeen. November 2012.

And you can imagine how many times we had to spell out the address.  “Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place:  W-R-I-G-H-T-S-apostrophe – yes, apostrophe after the s – okay, nevermind the apostrophe, space, C-O-O… ” and by the time we got to the second apostrophe we had given up.

Seeing this interesting and punctuationally-challenging street again happened just after I’d taught some first-year university students about basic punctuation.  I had quickly gone over how we use the apostrophe to denote possession:  Christine‘s jacket but the students’ books.  I also covered its versus it’s (“it’s only ever means two things:  ‘it is’ and ‘it has’).  Afterwards a student came up and said:  “Do you mean that you could have students AND student’s, and both would be correct?”  I said, yes, and students’ could also be correct.  It was one of those light-bulb moments for him, and he asked me:  “Why didn’t anyone ever explain this to me in school?  I’ve never understood the difference before now!”

Alas, I have no answer to that question.  Why indeed should a student with a thirst for understanding be denied an explanation of the use of the apostrophe?  Unless of course his teachers were equally baffled?  Perhaps for the next workshop I should march them down to Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place and explain about how there must have been more than one wheelwright, and more than one barrel-maker (cooper), and hence the apostrophes come after the s.

Going there again brought back many happy memories.

In the sun, our first flat in Aberdeen.  Wrights' and Coopers' Place, Old Aberdeen.  November 2012.

In the sun, our first flat in Aberdeen. Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place, Old Aberdeen. November 2012.

The best memory was of going, just after Christmas, to the cattery (where we had been visitors twice a week since August) and bringing our lovely cats home:

Mischka (left) and Tinker (right), fall 1986, New Haven, Connecticut.  Tinker had double paws.

Mischka (left) and Tinker (right), fall 1986, New Haven, Connecticut. Tinker had double paws.

It wasn’t a very big flat, but it was about ten times as big as their cage at the quarantine kennels, and they raced about like maniacs.  That was a very happy day.  And Tinker and Mischka didn’t really care about apostrophes.



  1. Oh the poor apostrophe! As you say, why do teachers not stamp out the plague?
    I have some apostrophe photos which I must get round to posting, and we can share groans.
    I used to love Wrights’ and Coopers’ place in every season.

  2. I’ve read a few posts and about your daughter, you said that she had a bell to ring in her room to alert you – had you thought of using a baby monitor? Very useful for a patient in bed, plug one part in their room and the other downstairs or wherever you are then you can hear them talk to you. They don’t cost very much, we got ours from our local chemist.

  3. wrights’ and coopers’ … how fantastic to have a street name after your occupation. that has always fascinated me.

  4. I second that re the monitor, they are far better now than when she was a baby.
    Oh those cats, I just love ginger cats, but you get what you are given via cats protection! Love them all really.
    Really loved your post. I get so cross with bad English Language, I upset everyone on facebook as I correct their spelling and I have steam coming out with the punctuation.

  5. As always you delight with your story telling 🙂 I hope the Dafter is having a better week xx

  6. I do so love the photo of the cats in the window. Your other post about the Dafter was moving, I did not know the depth of this illness. I was glad you wrote this as I think it will help many people, to have more understanding.


  7. It’s interesting to hear how you’re teaching first year students about the use of the apostrophe. I remember how surprised I was when a final year student once asked me how to make a job application by letter.

  8. What a pretty place to have such dear memories! It is always nice to revisit a place that transports you to a different time. So nice of you to adopt your Tabby cats from the shelter. I am sure that you have helped so many grateful students with your clear and patient explanations. xx

  9. Lovely photos, this might be my favourite bit of Aberdeen, I love the old stonework. I felt your pain when thinking of having to spell out the street name, I’ve had a few similar problems myself with streets I’ve lived in. I’m so glad you were able to give that student a light bulb moment, it’s wonderful when something like that clicks.

  10. I used to spend hours trying to explain to students about apostrophes. And some really bright people just never got it. I began to think maybe there’s a window in your life, when you’re about nine, when you should be taught about this, and it it isn’t done properly then, you never really understand. And I suspect some people get to be teachers without having mastered it. I’m very pernickety about it myself, but I do think that eventually we’re going to give up on it. They managed without the apostrophe in the Middle Ages.

  11. I’m sure you’ve read Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Great entertainment for those who enjoy punctuation. The author (Lynne Truss?) would appreciate the road sign.

  12. You lived at the end of this street??? SO JEALOUS!! WOW!!!

    I’m with Kelly on Lynne Truss’ book, too. (Did you catch my own apostrophe, by the way?)

  13. Dear all,
    Thanks for your great comments!

    Linda – oh do please share your apostrophe photos.

    Milly – thanks very much for the useful suggestion. I hadn’t thought of that.

    ajb – yes, it’s such an old-fashioned name in every way, isn’t it?

    Jill – You are just such a trouble-maker, correcting other people’s punctuation! It’s a difficult job, but someone’s got to do it! 🙂 As I said to Milly above, we hadn’t thought of the baby monitor idea. Good to know they’re better than they used to be.

    Heike – you are very kind! Yes, we have had some high points this week, and I will post about one in a moment. Hope you are dry and warm in North Wales. So much weather misery there, from what I hear…

    Christy – oh those cats were very special indeed. They taught us a great deal. I’m glad you found the ME/CFS post educational. I did want it to allow interested people to understand what it can be like, but I always worry that I’m being depressing or whiny… Anyhow, onwards!

    Martin – and now that skill would be redundant, but I believe that the art of addressing a letter is knowledge that may be dying out!

    Karen – It is a very pretty place. And as for teaching, the thing is that you don’t usually ever know whether you actually have made an impact, but you have to hope you will from time to time.

    Lorna – oh I’d love to hear about your difficult place names! We lived for four years in Normal, Illinois and I can’t tell you how many times people on the phone (i.e. when ordering something) fell about laughing.

    Flora – it’s interesting what you say about getting along without the apostrophe. I tell students that I’ve heard there’s a Sociology Professor somewhere who has declared he will no longer use the apostrophe. I tell them, presumably if he’s at the top of his profession he can do as he likes, and his editors will make the last-minute changes. But for the rest of us, until we re-enter another Shakespearian age of flexible spelling and punctuation, it’s good to know what the rules are and how to follow them. I have certain knowledge of job applications being rejected because of grammatical and punctuation errors.

    Kelly – yes, indeed, it is on my shelf.

    Relyn – I’m jealous of myself! Hard to believe, really. And yes, full points for the use of the apostrophe with Truss’ book! Ha ha!

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