The do's and don'ts of apostrophes

When it comes to apostrophes, there are a lot of do’s and don’ts. The least-understood and most crucial of all is: Don’t use an apostrophe to form a plural. One luau plus another luau is not two luau’s. It’s two luaus. One Roddenberry plus another Roddenberry do not make up the Roddenberry’s. They’re the Roddenberrys.

The same is true for decades. The period from 1980 to 1989 is not the 1980’s. It’s the 1980s. You can use an apostrophe to stand in for the dropped 1 and 9: ’80s. But it’s still wrong to write 80’s.

Simple, right? If you read fast through the first sentence of this column, it can seem that way. But if you did a double-take on “do’s and don’ts,” you know that apostrophe rules are anything but simple.

“Do’s” defies the rule because it uses an apostrophe to make a plural out of “do.” Plus, this expression contains its own double-standard: It uses an apostrophe to make “do’s” plural, but it does not add an apostrophe to make “don’ts” plural.

Makes no sense. If we’re following the rules, it should be “dos and don’ts.” If we’re going to defy the rules, we would have to make it “do’s and don’t’s,” with two apostrophes in “don’t’s,” for consistency’s sake, right? Yes. If logic reigned supreme, we couldn’t possibly use one rule for do’s then another for don’ts. Yet I do. Here's my recent column explaining why.

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