Full stop for apostrophes as experts warn the punctuation mark is history

Over 30 years the apostrophe’s use has noticeably declined, according to the biggest ever study of spoken and written language at Lancaster University

Apostrophes, first learnt in school, could be a thing of the past

In the world of puncutation little provokes as much passion as the apostrophe…. but experts say it could soon be a thing of the past.

Over 30 years its use has noticeably declined, according to the biggest ever study of spoken and written language.

Researchers from Lancaster University looked at 100million words to analyse trends.

“The most striking thing is how informal language has become,” said Dr Vaclav Brezina, who led the study. “There has been a systematic shift towards more informal vocabulary and grammar.”

Dr Brezina, an expert in linguistics, added that “there has been a very noticeable drop in the use of apostrophes”, a change he said was prompted by social media platforms which often dispense with them for brevity.

“The question is how much more time will it take for this to extend to elsewhere?”

Academics analysed how many times per million a word was used in the early 1990s compared with now.

They found that there has been an eight per cent decrease in the uses of the apostrophe after a plural noun – such as birds’ beaks – from 308.47 uses per million in the 1990s to 282.88 uses per million now.







Dr Vaclav Brezina says there has been a noticeable drop in apostrophe use



Compared with the early 1990s, today’s formal research reports include almost twice as many informal expressions such as “it’s” instead of “it is”.

Dr Brezina said that modal verbs such as “shall”, “must” and “may” have decreased by 60 per cent, 40 per cent and 41 per cent respectively, while “whom” has decreased by 52 per cent.

Another example of the trend towards informal language is the decreasing use of formal terms such as Mr and Mrs – down 35 per cent and 57 per cent respectively.

“We might be more likely to use first names now in official letters,” Dr Brezina said.




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There has also been a “significant increase” in the use of exclamation marks. Although this does not break any rules, traditionalists may see it as an “overuse”, Dr Brezina said.

There has also been a significant increase in the use of formerly frowned upon linguistic features such as the split infinitive.

New words and expressions related to technology – such as ‘vlog, fitbit and bitcoin’ – have come into existence, while shorthands such as “omg” (oh my God), “tbh” (to be honest) and “defo” (definitely) are now common place.

The word “amazing” has increased in use five-fold from 16.6 times per million to 88.6 times per million, while the use of “maybe” has almost tripled from 89.3 to 236.1 parts per million.


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