Public Signs: Taking Time to Get It Right

Alan takes a look at various signs that business owners put up in public view...without taking the time to proofread.  Can you spot the mistakes?  Test your English spelling and grammar skills here.  Good news: you can’t do worse than the shop owners featured in this story!

Have you ever been out in public and noticed mistakes on signs? They can be fancy ones that cost a lot of money.  They can also be simple ones that were handwritten.

In both cases, no one checked to see if they were correct.  In the case of handwritten signs, it’s not such a big deal.  Those are mostly temporary and will be taken down soon.  In the case of more permanent signs, they can make the person or company look careless or maybe even uneducated.

A common mistake is punctuation.  In fairness, most English speakers weren’t paying attention when their teachers were explaining punctuation.  They were busy talking with their friends or rolling their eyes and thinking how boring punctuation is.

The most common error is with apostrophes.  People just insert them when they’re not sure, usually before an S.  This is called the greengrocer’s apostrophe because grocers who sell produce often have to hand-letter small signs telling which kinds of vegetables are for sale. 

Here are some cases of signs I’ve photographed with an extra apostrophe.

[Bra’s and Brief’s; note: women’s is correct]   [Daddy say’s]   [Sunday’s]

Sometimes they’re really expensive ones, like this restaurant sign:  [Cheer’s]

I got into trouble about this one.  (I’ll tell you the story if you ask me.)  [Pita Wrap’s]

My colleague, Becky Ticotsky has a blog called Apostrophe Catastrophes where she shows photos of lots and lots of signs with mistakes on them.  You can check it out here if you want to see them—or maybe to check your own ability to spot mistakes!

Here are five more signs I’ve seen in public. 

[CNN: it’s]

[Mancino’s: your wanted]

[Unnamed restaurant: excepting reservations]

[Sunnyslope Florist: everyday]

[Gift Shop sign for sale: lay down]

Can you recognize what’s wrong with them?  Send us your answers, and we’ll tell you if you’re correct.

In the meantime, if you're going to the effort of communicating with public signage, be sure to spell-check your work.  Or hire a language consultant to get it right for you!  ;-)

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.