English punctuation is going to the dog’s. Or perhaps I mean it has already gone to the dogs’ . . .

Forgive me for my use of apostrophes. These things are important to me. There are four letters, and no apostrophe.

If I were to talk about a dog’s dinner, however, I’d use an apostrophe to indicate that the dinner belongs to the dog. It’s all a bit of a minefield, which is why perhaps, according to a report from Lancaster University this week, the apostrophe may be dying out altogether.

This trend can be attributed to social media where speed and space matter. Why say ‘you’re’ when you can speed-type ‘youre’ or — worse — ‘your’? You don’t need to worry about the complex rules of possessive apostrophes which distinguish singular from plural nouns.

Pardon my apostrophes. Readers who care about these things will know that I ought to say punctuation is going to the dogs. Four letters and not an apostrophe in sight, writes Susie Dent

Forgive me for my use of apostrophes. These readers will be aware that punctuation should go to the dogs. Susie Dent wrote that there are four letters, and no apostrophe. 

Is it elephants’ trunks, elephant’s trunks, or elephants trunks? Too late, you’ve already pressed ‘send’. The first is your answer. All of us are speaking using our fingers. We’re frantically typing messages on touch screens at lightning speed, mimicking the informality in speech.

Researchers looked at a 100-million word database that was compiled over the last 30 years. Their results showed how language has changed. It discovered, for example, an 8 per cent decrease in the use of an apostrophe after a ‘possessive plural’ noun compared with the early 1990s.

It’s a tricky rule to master, but it can make a serious difference, as an estate agent named Anthony Zadravic in Australia found out to his cost last month. In a Facebook sarcastic post, Mr Zadravic accused his ex-employer of failing to pay the pension money that he owed.

‘Selling multi million $ homes in Pearl Beach but can’t pay his employees superannuation,’ wrote a disgruntled Mr Zadravic. His former boss filed a claim for defamation because of the missing apostrophe in the word ‘employees’.

Research discovered, for example, an 8 per cent decrease in the use of an apostrophe after a ¿possessive plural¿ noun compared with the early 1990s. Pictured: Misuse of an apostrophe on a toilet sign

Research discovered, for example, an 8 per cent decrease in the use of an apostrophe after a ‘possessive plural’ noun compared with the early 1990s. Pictured: A misuse of the apostrophe in a bathroom sign 

Mr Zadravic was talking about himself only, so he should have put an apostrophe before the letter ‘s’ — ‘his employee’s superannuation’.

Sending the case to trial, the judge remarked: ‘The difficulty for the plaintiff is the use of the word “employees” in the plural. To fail to pay one employee’s superannuation entitlement might be seen as unfortunate; to fail to pay some or all of them looks deliberate.’

If the trial goes against Mr Zadravic, the judge added, it could cost him more than $180,000 (£98,500). That’s an expensive bit of missing punctuation.

Others, however, tend to go a bit crazy! Some people go crazy !!!!! Exclamation mark exuberance is spilling over everywhere — and not everyone is a fan.

‘All those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head,’ mused author Terry Pratchett, who wasn’t a fan of the most excitable member of the punctuation set.

And if apostrophes are struggling, you can forget colons and semi-colons. Pictured: Overused apostrophes on a takeaway sign

If you are having trouble with apostrophes, don’t forget to use colons or semi-colons. Photo: Takeaway signs with overused apostrophes

It seems that many of us enjoy wearing our linguistic underwear.

You don’t have to worry about apostrophes if you are having trouble with them. The dramatist Ben Jonson, arguably Britain’s greatest punctuator, loved the colon so much he inserted one between his first and last name in his signature, ‘Ben: Jonson’, but few would show such commitment now.

The colon is frequently left unused — instead, we are all turning to the dash. The dash, which was once a lazy master of all trades, is now regarded as fast.

You only need to use the keyboard or touchscreen for the most part. This also prevents you from having your head scratch over punctuation.

All of us are becoming, quite literally speaking, lazy. Semicolons may be gone, but they’re almost here to stay. These semi-colons are something I love almost as much a good adjective. I even use them all the time. But I’m a nerd who finds them instinctively elegant.

Many people would never use one of these emoticons in a WhatsApp conversation, as they could be seen in the message like an aubergine or sore thumb.

We are all becoming, quite literally, slapdash. As for semi-colons, they are almost out the door. Pictured: Unnecessary apostrophes on a café sign

We all are rapidly becoming, literally, lascivious. They are about to be gone, as well as semicolons. Pictured: Unnecessary apostrophes on a café sign

Recent criticisms have been levelled at even full stops. According to some, young people are aggressive towards it.

If this idea makes you snort, you’re not alone. It was also absurd that one, but surely essential dot can cause such hatred.

When I examined the reason for this, however, I came to understand. I hope that no one is trying to say we don’t need the whole stop. But if you were to tell a friend that you’d won the lottery, you might expect a punctuation-less ‘Amazing’ in return — or, better still, an ‘Amazing!’.

What wouldn’t seem quite so heartfelt is the flat response, ‘Amazing.’. In this case, the full stop surely suggests a touch of envy, of resentment even, not of genuine pleasure in a friend’s good fortune and happiness.

Either way, it’s unlikely that any of your friends will send you congratulations in beautiful copperplate handwriting.

As Lancaster University’s Dr Vaclav Brezina said, publishing his report: ‘We text or message friends and colleagues, and get an immediate response, but we might be hard-pressed to remember when we last wrote a letter.’

Communication is always changing. This means that there will be headlines praising the death of English as a language. This sentiment isn’t new. In the 18th century, Jonathan Swift was racked with anxiety over the future of English, complaining that ‘our Language is extremely imperfect; that its daily improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions’.

Among his damning observations of the ‘Abuses and Absurdities’ of English is that ‘Most of the Books we see now-a-days, are full of those Manglings and Abbreviations’. Centuries later these abbreviations still form an important part of our daily conversation.

These latest results are further evidence that English is on a slippery slope. The current wave of indifference is threatening the viability of the apostrophe.

I like to think of questions like these as ‘foofaraws’ — a big commotion or fuss over something we need not worry so much about.

Are these latest findings further proof that English is falling down a very slippery slope? Can the apostrophe hold out against the current tide of indifference? Pictured: A road sign in London with a mystery apostrophe

These latest results are further evidence that English is on a slippery slope. Is the apostrophe able to withstand the tide of indifference at the moment? Pictured is a road sign in London that has a mysterious apostrophe 

The fear of new technology is something that we have always felt. Some saw the arrival of the telegram as the end for expressive language. Victorians feared the card would endanger proper writing. This was also true at the beginning of the internet. There were predictions that language could become monotonous and monosyllabic.

All of this has not happened. Punctuation, like all aspects of English is adapting to meet our needs.

The beauty and clarity in our communications are more important than the Latin grammar rules.

It is not the rules and regulations of dusty Latin grammars that matter, but the beauty and clarity of our communication

The beauty and clarity in our communication are more important than the Latin grammar rules.

My guess is that few of us would leave out an apostrophe when writing to our child’s headteacher. However, it is entirely up to you to use an exclamation mark bonanza when sending a message to your friends.

Our ability to code-switch has been remarkable. Language is just one example. As for the bigger question, ‘Will English ever recover?’ — the answer has to be yes. The pace of society has always influenced the evolution of language.

We should learn the rules, for sure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t break them among friends.

You can wear your pants on top of your head if you wish. Just don’t do it too often in public.