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Whistler’s Apostrophe Challenge

I visited beautiful Whistler, British Columbia, last week and loved everything about it–except perhaps for its free-spirited use and avoidance of apostrophes. Its businesses’ signs kept my writing teacher’s mind spinning.

Here’s a challenge for you: See if you can determine which of the signs are punctuated according to current writing standards. When you find one that is not correct, decide how you would change it if its owner would let you.

































Can you tell why I went sign-crazy in Whistler? Which ones would you change? See my comments below. 





1. Ingrid’s–I love you! All your signs were consistent and correct. Ingrid is a singular noun, so its possessive form is Ingrid’s. 

2. St. Andrews House–what happened? Why did you choose to leave out the apostrophe? The traditional rendering is St. Andrew’s. 

3. Like St. Andrews, the cigar store needs an apostrophe: Castro’s. 

4. I savored quite a few Rogers’ chocolates, and I loved their sign. Rogers’ is correct. Although some style manuals would recommend Rogers’s, that form would be too fussy on a sign. 

5. Fat Tony’s has great pizza and perfect punctuation. 

6. Garfinkel’s punctuated this sign correctly, but their vertical signs say Garfs (not shown). If they wanted to be consistent, they would choose Garf’s. 

7. and 8. These are signs for the same establishment. Buffalo Bill’s wins for correctness.

9. I’d like to talk Earls into an apostrophe: Earl’s. 

10. I’m going to interpret Cow’s cute cone as a correct apostrophe although other Cow’s signs left it out. 

11. and 12. These signs are trying hard to be correct. And they both might be depending on whether we want to think of one skier or more than one. But an easier way to handle Skiers Approach and Skiers Plaza is to think of them as for skiers rather than of skiers or belonging to skiers. That way, we can avoid the possessive forms and not worry about singular and plural. 

13. Shoppers Drug Mart has–correctly, I think–chosen to avoid the possessive form. This approach is what I suggested for Skiers in 11 and 12. 

14. Let’s change this to Black’s Restaurant, which would match their Black’s Pub sign (not shown).  

15. The creative rendering of DAVIDsTEA inspired me to watch for signs in Whistler. DAVID’S TEA would be correct but not catchy. The more I saw DAVIDsTEA rendered that way, the more it convinced me that its distinctiveness won out over conventionalism. 

Do you prefer correct, conventional renderings or creative ones? And how did you do on the challenge?

I wasn’t able to visit every establishment I photographed–a great reason to return to Whistler!

Would you like to feel more confident of your punctuation? Take my online self-study course Punctuation for Professionals. The free trial allows you to decide whether the course is right for you. 



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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “Whistler’s Apostrophe Challenge”

  • I received a message from Adam through LinkedIn. Here are his two concerns, which I quote:

    1. What’s your reference for St. Andrew’s?
    This may be named after the town of St Andrews in Scotland, which (incorrectly) omits the apostrophe in its own name, but the sign would be correctly imitating the error of the proper name.

    2. In 7 and 8, what’s your reference for Buffalo Bill’s being correct?
    This is likely a reference to the American football team of the Buffalo Bills, which were named after Buffalo Bill Cody. Since there was a whole team instead of just one man, it became the “Bills.” Therefore, “Buffalo Bills” could be an acceptable spelling for an establishment, depending on the meaning.

    Good questions to think about, Adam. Thanks for them.

    1. I can’t find anything quickly online that explains a historical reference in the name choice of St. Andrews House, which is a condo complex. I’d look to the true origin: Since his name was St. Andrew, the possessive form would be St. Andrew’s.

    2. I don’t see any team references in the Buffalo Bill’s online photos. Rather, the historical figure “Buffalo Bill” appears as their inspiration. It’s the inconsistent rendering that bothers me most. Compare these two images:

    I appreciate the way you think, Adam. Thanks for the questions.


  • Thank you, Lynn, for an entertaining way to test ourselves on using apostrophes. It drives me insane to read various publications, both professional and “home-grown,” where the apostrophe is used incorrectly. I always learn something from your newsletter and appreciate the resources you offer to those of us who want to be great at the punctuation game!

  • Hi Lynn, I am a big fan of your blog. Just to add a little more to the discussion about the apostrophe s. Davids Tea started in Montreal. Our province has a controversial story with the apostrophe “s”. In Quebec, there are regulations about company names, signage etc. In the 1980s a large department store, Eaton’s, was compelled to drop the ‘s becoming Eaton. Davids Tea’s creativity may have been shaped by this history and current regulations.

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