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Apostrophe's to Form Plural's?



Bob the Angry Flower says it's NEVER correct to use apostrophes when forming plurals.

Teacher's RuleI'm going with Bob on this one, because using apostrophes to form plurals (1) is a rule you can't stick to, (2) plunges you into those murky waters of having to remember when it's okay and when it isn't, and most important, (3) is never necessary. OK, rarely necessary. Nearly all plurals work just fine without apostrophes.* So why confuse us by trying to use them in certain instances?

Make no mistake--we are confused. (Look right.)

I understand the urge to do this. It's like trying to remember where to place the closing quotation marks for a phrase around a period or comma. Sometimes doing the right thing just doesn't look right.

For example, we flop and flounder when we try writing phrases like dos and don'ts. The dos doesn't look right to us, so we decide to add plural apostrophes and get: do's and don't's. That doesn't look right either, so we end up removing the only apostrophe that was correct in the first place and get: do's and dont's.

More commonly, we add the plural apostrophe when we pluralize abbreviations, acronyms, and numbers. Some of my favorite writers, like Kurt Vonnegut, have at times indicated decades by using an apostrophe: the Roaring '20's, the 1960's, etc. And I'm okay with that; I don't count off when students do that. Nor do I count off when students use apostrophes to form the plurals of acronyms and abbreviations. The trouble comes when you wish to form a possessive on top of it, which now requires two apostrophes in succession:
  • The NCO's' parking lot needs repainting.
  • The Beatles were the 1960's' most successful rock group.
  • (And how about the contraction? The Beatles were the '60's' most successful rock group.)
No one likes the double apostrophe, so they opt to remove the plural apostrophe and retain the possessive apostrophe: 1960s' greatest band, NCOs' parking lotSo it turns out, the plural apostrophe wasn't necessary after all. Imagine that.

Predictably, lay folk can't remember anymore when it's okay to add the apostrophe and when it isn't. So you find signmakers all over the U.S. forming simple plurals by adding a plural apostrophe, which is clearly wrong.

Then things spin totally out of control, and it's Grammargeddon--people start spelling any word ending in s, plural or not, with an apostrophe.**


So let's just treat ourselves to yet another one of those ever-so-satisfying rules that are easy to apply and work in all cases: Never use a plural apostrophe.*

* I concede that the plural apostrophe is probably necessary for the plural of single letters, like in mathematics and such.
** Yes, I know it's technically not grammar; it's punctuation. But "Grammargedon" is infinitely better than "the Apunctulypse."


***** This article satisfies Squid Commo Objective (SCO) #2 - Untangle and simplify the rules *****