Can you use apostrophes?

KATE JONES
Last updated 11:22 05/03/2014

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Mexican food-lover Rachel Brodsky has an eye for detail. So much so, that when she saw glaring grammatical errors in the advertising for her local Mexican restaurant she was turned off.

"Advertisements are like businesses' resumes and I won't spend my money at a venue because of these errors," she says.

"A restaurant will check they use the correct ingredients, not substituting parsley for coriander because it looks the same. It's the same with grammar. The detail matters."

Many consumers like Brodsky are quick to notice poor spelling and grammar in advertising and marketing material. Apostrophe confusion, basic spelling errors and even typos are enough to make these pedants distrust a company and reject their product.

Some may see these linguistic blunders as seemingly inconsequential, but businesses using bad grammar risk more than just losing potential customers. They also put their reputation, and the message they send to clients, on the line.

Last year the marketing department at Monash University in Victoria, Australia, was left red-faced after publishing a spelling mistake in promotional bus and tram shelter posters.

The ad read "What's more brilliant then a Monash degree?" when it should have read, "What's more brilliant than a Monash degree?".

The university was lampooned on social media, national newspapers and even internationally, via viral news site Buzzfeed.

"What's better than a Monash degree? A proof-reader," the Buzzfeed author joked.

Even Aussie retail giant Myer is not immune to making grammatical clangers.

"Early bird get's the right size" read the 2012 Boxing Day promotional slogan on massive banners hung in stores across Australia.

Observant shoppers spotted the redundant apostrophe and quickly took to Twitter, which led to the discovery of another howler.

A different Myer promotion included a spelling mistake that read "Satruday" instead of Saturday. A Myer spokesman was forced to offer his "sincerest apologies" to customers.

As an indication of the ire misspelling raises in consumers, the I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar Facebook group now has more than 3900 members. Members gleefully point out spelling stuff-ups and grammatical gaffes in public signs, newspapers and even internet memes.

Linguist and spelling specialist Lyn Stone says it was common for those with an ability to spell and use correct grammar correctly to feel offended by poor spelling and grammar.

"Communication is incredibly important and respect for the reader is also important," Stone says.

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"We have a very deep emotional response to grammar and spelling, especially those who can do it well and that's a significant size of the population.

"We mentally reject those who violate the rules of literacy and that's a subconscious decision because we find it rude."

Stone educates people who have difficulties with literacy, including those disadvantaged by dyslexia, a developmental reading disorder, and dysgraphia, a deficiency in the ability to write.

She says those without a genuine reason for not using proper punctuation and spelling cannot afford to dismiss its importance.

"Clarity is important and if you're trying to get your message across you've got to be clear," Stone says.

"If you want to show respect for the people you're communicating with you've got to show clarity otherwise you give the impression of vagueness."

Lax literacy can easily be written off as trivial and harmless, but online studies have shown the devil is in the detail.

A 2011 analysis of online sales by British entrepreneur Charles Duncombe, from the Just Say Please group, found spelling mistakes can slash revenue by as much as 50 per cent.

By measuring the revenue per visitor to the tightsplease.co.uk website, Duncombe found it was twice as high after a spelling error had been corrected.

A good incentive for online businesses to avoid grammatical mistakes is to avoid missing search engine optimisation (SEO) opportunities.

A simple spelling slip-up on your website could cost your business the chance to rank well in Google searches.

And in today's digital age, that's the equivalent of hanging a "closed" sign on the shop door.

Woj Kwasi from digital marketing specialists Kwasi Studios says while not everyone uses their best punctuation skills to search Google, they have higher expectations of online traders.

"Good spelling counts, especially online where you don't get the face-to-face interaction," he says.

"When you've got a website littered with spelling errors, it doesn't ensure trust or professionalism."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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