The Vanishing Apostrophe

by Cherie Tucker

We used to use the apostrophe plus an s to pluralize things, such as the 1920’s.  Now, however, with our continuously evolving language, in many instances the apostrophe is omitted, and we simply add the s. I’m sure you’ll still see it done both ways, because we did it the apostrophe way for years. You will find apostrophes in older printed material, and people who were trained to include them will still automatically add one.  Here are are some guidelines to tell you when to leave it out or put it in.
Plural numerals do not require the apostrophe.  Merely add the s:  

I’m out of W2s.
I wore that in the ’50s.  
It could be in the 100s tomorrow!
If you write out numbers, just add an s.
Line up by twos.  
I’m at sixes and sevens!  
I have three fours and a pair of kings.
Capital letters also require only the lowercase s:
They are both Ph.D.s.  
I’ve worked for S&Ls for years.
 We’re short of R.N.s.

Eliminate the apostrophe, too, in words that already contain apostrophes, like “Don’ts.”
The most important consideration in all writing is clarity of message. Making lower case words plural by simply adding the can create an unintentional word rather than a plural and lead to misreading.  For many years, Glamour magazine has had the “Glamour Do’s and Don’ts” article, featuring fashion faux pas. Now they leave out the apostrophe on “Do’s,” resulting in “Dos,” which of course is a computer operating system.  Generally when the lowercase s is added to lowercase letters, your eye will tell you if you need an apostrophe or not.

Just wear jeans and t’s.
Now read the lowercase abc’s.
Never a yes, just no’s from them.

So for now, leaving the apostrophe out is the new black, but keep one in your pocket for those times when you might need it. 

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

Cherie TuckerComment