The Hired Pens Advice Column: Ava’s Hot Dog’s

Dear Hired Pens,

How do you tell a family member that the sign for their business (a hot dog stand) is an embarrassment? “Ava’s Hot Dog’s.”

In a pickle,


Dear Simone,

I have thought a lot/alot about your question. I even posted it on Facebook to see if anyone had any good suggestions for you. Turns out there were several. In fact, the only question I’ve ever posted that got more responses was about which vacuum I should buy. (Answer: Miele Deluxe Canister Vacuum. Thank you, Nat and Kathleen.) Here is a sampling of responses.


  • The philosophical: Calling into question the possessive apostrophe’s very existence. “Nothing but trouble.”


  • The empathetic: Perhaps this was just a misguided attempt at abbreviating doggies?


  • The self-interested negotiation: Willing to trade grammatical know-how for a free hot dog with the works.

They all had good points, Simone, but I think the answer lies/lays within you. I will assume that your motivation is good. And that you truly care about helping Ava, not just showing off that you are a smarty pants. Or at least paid attention in junior high English.


So, here’s what you need to ask:


Does anyone care? Is this a hot dog stand in say, an upscale, overeducated enclave where people might make poor Ava feel bad/badly that her grammatical skills are not on par with her superlative hot dogs?


Yes? You need to tell her before she loses any more business to a hot dog vendor who better understands the complexities of the possessive apostrophe.

No? Leave it alone and enjoy the immense satisfaction of being a bigger person. Maybe you’ll even literally become a bigger person if Ava is the generous sort. (Who can resist a free side of chili cheese fries/fry’s?)

How sensitive is Ava? This will determine your approach should you decide to say something.


Not very: Of course she’s not! She runs a hot dog stand! Good old Ava can dish it out as well as she can take it. But still, no need to make her feel stupid when there is such an obvious scapegoat! Here’s what you say:


“Hey Ava, looks like your sign maker screwed up. There’s/theirs no apostrophe in ‘dogs.’ Boy, that guy’s a real dummy!” Then you can both have a good laugh and Ava can save face, even if she’s the dummy.


Oh, she’s very sensitive: Poor dear: tough business for a gentle soul. But the same approach applies, just peppered with lots of reassurances and white lies.

“Wow, Ava, you know I never would have noticed this if I weren’t helping my neighbor’s daughter with her English homework, but it looks like your sign maker put an unnecessary apostrophe in ‘hot dogs.’ I’m sure no one else has noticed, but it might be worth fixing, if it’s not too expensive.

There, I hope that helped. Now I am going to go eat a hot dog(‘s).

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