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Don’t Have It Printed Til You Read This Post!

Yesterday I went on an urban hike. Climbing stairs among lush greenery, I spotted the sign below. Not again! Someone had once again printed a sign without checking on their use of apostrophes. Don’t do it! Before creating a sign or printing cards that include an apostrophe, read this post.

A picture of a draw bridge with the words: "The Stairway was rehabilitated in 2018 by SDOT Roadway Structure's Crew's

I am pleased and grateful that the Seattle Department of Transportation rehabilitated the stairs. But their use of apostrophes? Not so much.

Structure’s Crew’s    Do you think either of the apostrophes is correct?


Here’s a hint to help you: The Capital Projects and Roadway Structures Division is a division of the Seattle Department of Transportation.

So, do you think either one of them is correct?





Unfortunately, both apostrophes are wrong. Since Structures is part of the name of the division, breaking it up with an apostrophe is wrong. And since crews is a simple plural, it should not have an apostrophe either.

Here’s what the sign should say:


This stairway was rehabilitated in 2018 by SDOT Roadway Structures crews.
(with normal sentence capitalization)


This Stairway Was Rehabilitated in 2018 by SDOT Roadway Structures Crews
(with title capitalization)


We need to use apostrophes to show possession–not to show plurals like Structures and Crews.

It is possible to create sentences in which Structures and Crews do need apostrophes. Here are examples:


SDOT Roadway Structures’ mandate is to complete projects on time and on budget.
(The mandate of the Roadway Structures Division is Roadway Structures’ mandate–a possessive form)

The SDOT Roadway Structures crews’ efficiency won them an award.
(The efficiency of the crews is the crews’ efficiency–a possessive form.)


That stairway sign shouted out to me, especially because just the day before, I had been visiting an elderly friend and reading her Christmas cards to her. Two of them were custom printed:


Happy Holidays and a Joyful New Year from the Henderson’s!

The Stauffers’ Wish You a Blessed Christmas


Both the Hendersons and the Stauffers had had their holiday cards printed without a review of the punctuation. Neither name needs an apostrophe! They are simple plurals.

Could we write greetings that require apostrophes? Yes. Consider these:


From the Hendersons’ Home to Yours: Happy Holidays and a Joyful New Year!
(The home of the Hendersons is the Hendersons’ home–a possessive.)

The Stauffers’ Wish Is That You Have a Blessed Christmas
(The wish of the Stauffers is the Stauffers’ wish–a possessive.)


Let’s test your understanding. Insert apostrophes where necessary in these three statements:


  1. The Hendersons project received a permit from the SDOT Roadway Structures Division.
  2. That crews work was singled out by the mayor for commendation.
  3. The Stauffers invited the Hendersons to the Olsons New Year’s Eve party.








Compare your answers with mine.




  1. The Hendersons’ project received a permit from the SDOT Roadway Structures Division.
  2. That crew’s work was singled out by the mayor for commendation.
  3. The Stauffers invited the Hendersons to the Olsons’ New Year’s Eve party.





  1. The Hendersons’ project received a permit from the SDOT Roadway Structures Division.
    The project of the Hendersons is the Hendersons’ project.
    Structures is a simple plural and part of the name of the division.
  2. That crew’s work was singled out by the mayor for commendation.
    The work of that crew is that crew’s work.
  3. The Stauffers invited the Hendersons to the Olsons’ New Year’s Eve party.
    Stauffers and Hendersons are simple plurals. The party of the Olsons is the Olsons’ party.


If you would like more review of the use of apostrophes, read these blog posts:

If you have questions or comments, please ask them–before you have the sign or cards printed!






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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.

10 comments on “Don’t Have It Printed Til You Read This Post!”

  • Hi Bart,

    “Was” is a verb. Verbs are always capitalized in titles, no matter how small they are.


  • Deborah, thanks for that important, passionately stated point. It IS unbelievable that no one caught these errors before the plaque went up. That said, most signs I see are correct. So some people are working hard at getting things right. I’m grateful to them.


  • Lionel, what a wild and crazy headline! Thanks for sharing it. I will be sure to do something with it soon.


  • Patty, what a great question. Well, the marketing department has a wonderful design person. One solution would be for marketing to add proofreading to their services (and editing if necessary). The marketing design person would create the design, and the marketing editor would send a corrected, beautifully designed version back to the requesting department. It would be ideal if the marketing department had final approval of any such communications–for example, if marketing oversaw signage.

    Short of that major change, you are justified in respectfully pointing out errors. In fact, even though it is not technically your job to correct them, as you say, it is everyone’s job to help the company be successful. I think it’s important to reach out with your guidance. Others will decide whether to accept it.

    You ask, “How do you address this issue with kindness and respect?” Are you wondering how to give this constructive feedback, or are you asking something else?

    If you want some words to introduce a correction, you might say something like this: “I saw the final copy on the ABC sign, and I want to let you know about an error before it gets printed. I know the sign is an important part of your ABC campaign and that you want it to be perfect.” There’s more you could say, of course, depending on the situation. And you would let the right person know about the error without copying others on your communication.

    Does that help? Thanks for the discussion!


  • Hi Lynn,

    Do you know what appalls me? The fact that people don’t even ask themselves “Am I possibly making a mistake? Should I check my writing before having it printed on a wall for everyone to see? Could my bad writing affect the image of the Department?”. Not only the person who wrote this in the first place, but everyone between them and those who realised the image on the wall. It’s unbelievable that nobody considered the importance of correct writing.

  • @Deborah,

    Those are my thoughts as well. This sign must have passed a number of people before it landed on its final place. Nobody took responsibility nor cared to make sure it was correct. Particularly, the person who originally wrote it probably never thought of having it checked. That is not a great strategy.

    This brings a question I deal with at work and find delicate to address. In our marketing department, one worker creates beautiful designs, is very responsive, always follows up and has a wonderful attitude. However, they are not a great writer. Content creation is not their responsibility, and each department is responsible for reviewing marketing materials created for them and get back to the marketing person with revisions. As you can imagine, not every department in the company has strong writers/ editors/ reviewers. It pains me to see mistakes on other departments’ materials, and it is not technically my job to correct them, but if I say nothing, we could end up with a bad sign! So my question is, how do you address this issue with kindness and respect?


  • Hi Lynn,

    We do have a wonderful design person! And yes, that was my question. I do believe I should say something, but sometimes I feel self-conscious about offering feedback that includes what could be perceived as a negative take on someone else’s work. I like your approach and found your feedback very helpful, thank you!


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