Skip to main content

What's wrong with Two Weeks Notice? Lynne Truss, the phenomenally successful author of the entertaining 2003 screed against faulty punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, was particularly aggrieved by the lack of an apostrophe in the film's title. She had heart palpitations when she saw the movie poster on the side of a bus. "If it were 'one month's notice' there would be an apostrophe (I reasoned); yes, and if it were 'one week's notice' there would be an apostrophe," she says in the book. "Therefore 'two weeks' notice' requires an apostrophe! Buses that I should have caught (the 73; two 38s) sailed off up Buckingham Palace Road while I communed thus at length with my inner stickler, unable to move or, indeed, regain any sense of perspective."

The affront was sufficiently famous to prompt a question in The Globe and Mail's recent literary quiz, with the answer, "Lynne Truss . . . was enraged by the punctuation of Two Weeks Notice."

A Dec. 24 year-end wrapup on CNN's Newsnight with Aaron Brown included a clip of Truss stalking her bête noire. Truss: What is happening with the apostrophe is that it's just dying out because people don't know how to use it and think, probably best to leave it out.

Story continues below advertisement

CNN correspondent Beth Nissen [voiceover] That's the mistake the producer of the Hugh Grant/Sandra Bullock film Two Weeks Notice made on the film's title.

Truss: The film Two Weeks Notice should have had an apostrophe after the "Weeks." Truss says in her book that the apostrophe in such cases "indicates time or quantity" (presumably favouring two kilograms' worth over two kilograms worth), and she is entitled to a view for which there is some support. But it's not gospel, as a number of reputable sources confirm.

For instance, the 1965 edition of the great H. W. Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage says such words as weeks "may be treated as possessives and given an apostrophe or as adjectival nouns without one." The only advantage of the first style, the book notes, is that it conforms to the inevitable apostrophe in the singular: a week's notice. In their Guide to Canadian English Usage, Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine use the term attributive noun rather than adjectival noun, but the phrase similarly refers to such constructions as coffee shop and football coach, with noun modifying noun. "Newspaper style books support omitting the apostrophe here (and in expressions such as five weeks' work). More conservative authorities recommend retaining the apostrophe." The Freelance Editors' Association of Canada, in its 1987 book Editing Canadian English, says, "The practice of deleting the apostrophe in phrases [such as 'four years imprisonment']where the possessive noun becomes an adjective is gaining in popularity."

The support goes beyond newspapers. In his 1953 punctuation guide You Have a Point There, Eric Partridge files under "modern good sense" a prescription by G. H. Vallins, author of Good English: How to Write It. "There is a laudable tendency in modern usage to omit the apostrophe, particularly in plural nouns, where the nouns are adjectival without any real possessive sense. . . ." The apostrophe makes little sense in the expression "two weeks pay" (even though the singular must colloquially be one week's pay) because there is no possessive at all: Rearranged, the phrase would be pay for two weeks rather than pay of two weeks.

Still, there remains that sticky question of the singular possessive. "In measurements of time," Wilson Follett wrote in his 1966 book Modern American Usage, "the habit is growing of doing without the apostrophe in plurals: six months leave without pay is fairly common. This apparent simplification actually complicates matters; for no one as yet writes an hours delay, a weeks extension, and it is a complication to have one rule for the singular and another for the plural. This book recommends the retention of the apostrophe in six months' leave until writers are ready to jettison it in a day's grace, a minute's inattention, etc."

Truss's inner stickler will draw comfort from Follett's prescription, but, given the weight of supporting material available to the makers of Two Weeks Notice, she might be wise to cut the bus poster -- or, if you prefer, the bus's poster -- some slack.

wclements@globeandmail.ca

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter