Apostrophes in Plurals


I’ve always been pretty opposed to using apostrophe to form plurals, except when absolutely necessary.

Learn your ABCs, not ABC’s.

The company bought some Boeing 747s, not 747’s.

Schools used to focus on the three Rs, not R’s.

It happened during the 1850s, not 1850’s.

In my world, the only time you use an apostrophe to form a plural is when it’s absolutely necessary for clarity. The most common example is in business signs in all capital letters: RETIRMENT PLANS AND IRA’S EVALUATED, DVR’S REPAIRED – stuff like that.

Also when you’re writing a passage that mentions individual letters, like Mind your p’s and q’s and Her name sure has a lot of i’s in it, apostrophes are the only way to show that the s is doing a different job than that of p, q and i.

Otherwise, in the editing rules I follow, apostrophes in plurals are a big no-no.

But, as I’ve learned the hard way, you should never be too quick to judge someone else’s punctuation and grammar, because in their world it just might be right.

This came to mind recently when I opened an old copy of “Words Into Type,” which was once one of the most definitive guides in publishing. Here’s what I read in the section on plurals:

The plural of a letter, figure, character, or sign is expressed by adding to it an apostrophe and s.


Three R’s

During the 1850’s

Boeing 747’s

Anyone who subscribes to my view that apostrophes don’t form plurals and who saw these forms in written text might assume the apostrophes were errors made of ignorance. But in fact, they could be well-informed choices.

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One Response to “Apostrophes in Plurals”

  1. I just noticed that WordPress is aciamattuolly curling my apostrophes the wrong way when I type Jesus' or just s. Apparently, WordPress would prefer we type Jesus's or Chris's instead of Jesus' or Chris'.