Misplace apostrophes – miss out on med school?

The perennially thorny issue of apostrophe misuse has been correlated with lack-of-success at medical school. Researchers Dr Michael Cop and Dr Hunter Hatfield of the University of Otago, New Zealand, decided to test whether undergraduate medical students’ abilities in handling apostrophes might be linked to their (future) career prospects :

We therefore examined the placement offers for each of the students who wrote sentences requiring possessive apostrophes. The placement rate for those who used the apostrophe correctly was 43%, while for those who used it incorrectly it was only 31%. In logistic regression, this difference was significant (Wald’s z = −2.211, p = 0.027). Students who placed the possessive apostrophe correctly were 38% more likely to be offered a place. Strangely, this little mark seems to have some predictive abilities of whether or not students will succeed in becoming health professionals.”

See: An athletes [sic] performance: Can a possessive apostrophe predict success?: Misplace apostrophes, miss out on med school? English Today, Volume 33, Issue 3, September 2017 , pp. 39-45.


[1] The paper cites the much celebrated 2003 book by Lynne Truss ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation’.

[2]  Apostrophes don’t often feature in mainstream media news headlines – but 2018 is already proving an exception. See this item from the New York Times regarding the president of Kazakhstan’s new rules for apostrophes :

“In a country where almost nobody challenges the president publicly, Mr. Nazarbayev has found his policy on apostrophes assailed from all sides.”

[3] The 2001 Ig Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to John Richards of Boston, England, founder of The Apostrophe Protection Society, for his efforts to protect, promote, and defend the differences between plural and possessive.

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