Apostrophe Apoplexy

To editors, superfluous apostrophes are a blot on the grammatical landscape. While apostrophes are necessary to indicate possession and construct contractions, please don’t use them willy-nilly. There are rules! And they are pretty easy to follow:

Do use an apostrophe with plurals of single letters: Mind your p’s and q’s. I got two A’s on my report card.

Do NOT use an apostrophe for plurals of multiple-letter combinations: The CEOs are meeting today. I gave her five IOUs.

Do NOT use an apostrophe for plurals of figures: There are four 727s in the fleet. The temperature is in the low 50s. The 1980s were filled with neon.

Ignore The New York Times’ incorrect use of an apostrophe in decades: It’s 1960s, not 1960’s, unless you are claiming ownership on behalf of that single year. I also suggest you ignore The Times’ crazy use of ’s after s (Times’s — no!). We all learned in elementary school that is just plain wrong.

And for the love of G-d, do NOT use an apostrophe to make a poor unsuspecting word plural. Just add the s, no apostrophe. Really.

To be specific: If you absolutely must put a sign on your house announcing your family name, don’t use an apostrophe: The Hauptmans, NOT The Hauptman’s (if you are feeling super-possessive, you may put an apostrophe AFTER the s, indicating the house belongs to the family — as in The Hauptmans’ House — but NEVER before).

P.S. Its is possessive: The posse lost its way. It’s is a contraction for it is: It’s now or never. Think of the apostrophe as a leftover from the dot of the i.

2 Responses to “Apostrophe Apoplexy”


  • Funny, Lauren, I learned the rules differently, from the Chicago Manual of Style, a long long time ago.

    The rule I use is that I should use an apostrophe with multi-ltr combinations and figures only if I need it to make things clearer. Which leaves me exactly where you landed up. Although I might write “I got two As and three Bs…” Nah. You’re right. A’s and B’s work better.

    So. I guess we match in our apostrophe stylings. Nice.

  • As could be as!

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