Punctuation Errors: Apostrophe for Plurals
The apostrophe has a wide range of uses within the English language. Forming plurals, however, is not one of them.
Many people, especially those that speak English as a foreign language, tend to make this blatant mistake. Here are some examples illustrating this punctuation error:
According to the rule’s we should follow him.
The waiter turned and asked, “Is that your’s?”
The boy’s were going to the school.
The confusion probably comes from the possessive use of the apostrophe, as in “The boy’s school is right after the corner.” This sentence refers to the school of a single boy. If we were talking about more than one, it would’ve been “The boys’ school is right after the corner.” Either way the usage is correct because the apostrophe is being used to show possession and not to form a plural.
Some authors argue that the apostrophe can be used to form plurals with abbreviations like CD’s and PC’s or with words that are rarely used in the plural form like but’s and if’s. Others consider it as a mistake nonetheless.
Regardless of this exception, if you want to stay out of trouble remember this simple rule: the apostrophe is not used to form plural’s. I mean plurals!
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26 Responses to “Punctuation Errors: Apostrophe for Plurals”
After reading 1000s of books as a child, and spending years in a foreign country teaching English as a second language, my absolute understanding is this:
When do you use an apostrophe to denote a plural?
As to the first comment by Kitty suggesting abcs needs to have one to avoid confusion (as in “Learn your abc’s.”) I was taught the proper way was to hyphenate the letters, to clarify their singularities, as in:
“Learn your a-b-cs.”
Why this is so hard to understand for most is really the question, here.
On the other hand, I’ve long since stopped caring how obtuse the majority of people insist on being, or worse, becoming. If most won’t even take the time to understand the reality of their world around them, how could anyone expect them to care about a little punctuation mark?
Just one avid reader’s and English teacher’s opinion (notices apostrophes being used correctly to suggest possession).
For the woman who commented on signs like “The Johnson”s”, the
family could have meant “the house of the Johnsons” i.e. the Johnson’s house, in which case it would be correct.
@Catherine-No need to regret your band’s poster. 60’s music is music belonging to the 1960s (and still the greatest!).
I found this site because I was curious about further/farther and the etymology then saw this article. I thought my mum and I were the only ones for whom this is a pet peeve, so I loved reading this article.
Another thing I don’t like is calling any initialism/abbreviation an acronym. If it can’t be pronounced as a word in its native language, it’s not an acronym! I call it an initialism; others may call it an abbreviation. For instance, NASA can be pronounced as a word in the English tongue (nassar, nasser, nassa, depending on accents), but NGO (non-governmental organisation) can’t.
I think I’m very old-school – and I certainly get teased for it at work when I grumble about having to type sulfur instead of sulphur – but no-one is ever going to persuade me to use an apostrophe when pluralising, except for when I finally go ga-ga …
My friends at work call me the grammar warden – not a bad thing considering I’m a secretary/proof-reader – and I’ve actually adopted it as part of my ‘screen name’ for some sites.
Now if only I could kill these run-on sentences of mine. Sigh … And that’s another topic for conversation.
@ Josh again,
This “laying v. lying” thing was bothering me, so I looked it up on Collins online. It refers to the use of the word “laying” as “not standard.” That’s that one sorted, then.
My daughter (8) came home with a note from her teacher, asking parents if it was ok for their children to sample certain foods in class. These foods included the following (sic):
Oh dear. Another teacher advised me not to mention it to her, as it could undermine her confidence and embarrass her…
But “ABC” is not an acronym. In fact, I can’t see that you would ever pluralise an acronym.
And I don’t know how old you are but I am 43 and when I was at school, I was never taught to write “ABC’s”. Neither was my dad, who is nearly 83.
@ Josh, I’ve never been one to say, “I am laying down”, believing it was wrong. I’ve always said, “I am lying down.” However, I seem to remember looking it up a few years ago and being horrified to see that…I was wrong!! I still use “lying”, though!!
@ OMG, I share your angst. My band has on its flyers that we play “60’s” music (without the quotation marks, of course – they are mine). Grrrrrrrrr!!
@OMG, perhaps you would be a bit less condescending about this error if you realized that using an apostrophe to form the plural of an acronym used to be considered correct, and was the standard form taught in schools when I was a child. Grammar rules evolve over time. I have had to adapt to a number of changes, such as the removal of the Oxford comma, the comma before “too” and the second space between sentences.
Dear OMG, I am as bothered as you by those ABCs. But it appears that you are a little less sensitive to conjugations of lay and lie. Unless you meant you were in the process of laying _some thing_ down (laying down some lines of haiku, maybe), you were simply lying down. Cheers.
OMG, are you all nuts?
ABCs. 1s. NO APOSTROPHE. This is not a contraction, nor is it showing possession. It is simply plural. Do you NOT know the rules for grammar when referencing plurals? AHHH! I’m a teacher and I am SO frustrated when seeing books say “ABC’s.” Really? Is it the ABC’s book? See possession. Is it a contraction from some unknown nonsense word? Again, NEGATIVE. Go back to school everyone!!!
Ironic. My own grammar mistakes. Serves me right for typing on my laptop that is on my stomach… oh… and I’m also laying down. The fact that I was coherent is a huge win.
OMG, are you all nuts?
ABCc. 1s. NO APOSTROPHE. This is not a contraction, nor is it showing possession. It is simply plural. Do you NOT know the rules for grammar when referencing plurals. AHHH! I’m a teacher and I am SO frustrated when seeing books say “ABC’s.” Really? Is it the ABC’s book? See possession. Is it a contraction from some unknown nonesnse word? Again, NEGATIVE. Go back to school everyone!!!
I would like to be a profssinal writer of English Language
I am in serious need of knowing which is correct…ABCs (with no apostrophe) or ABC’s (WITH apostrophe) …it appears that both are acceptable no matter where I look. If someone has a DEFINITIVE answer or can site some reliable source, I would greatly appreciate it.
I suspect that the surge in the misuse of apostrophes in plurals can be attributed to overreliance on Microsoft Word’s spell checker. I find that it frequently suggests exactly that mis-correction when it encounters properly-formed plurals.
Thanks for the info, I will pass it to a friend who keeps making this mistake. It gets on my nerves big time.
My only disagreement (and I might be wrong) is in relation to your sentence “especially those that speak English as a foreign language”. At least in Spanish (and this is where I might be wrong, as I cannot speak for other languages) we have nothing like your apostrophe for expressing possession; and plurals, on the other hand, are pretty similar.
I have only seen this mistake in native (if careless) English speakers.
Thank you again for this useful post.
I see so many signs in front of homes, which read “The Johnson’s” or “The Smith’s”, that I had actually started to wonder if I was the one who is mistaken about this being improper use of the apostrophe! I feel bad for these people who have spent good money on expensive signs or rock carvings which are incorrect.
Although I applaud your efforts to save the much misused and long-suffering apostrophe, could I ask you why so many people, as you do, use the non-sentient relative pronoun “that”!!!! I quote from your splendid article: “Many people, especially those that speak English as a foreign language, tend to make this blatant mistake.”
Please, please, please, use the correct interrogative or relative pronoun, WHO, when referring to human beings.
Thank you for your diligence and love of our language, its meanings and symbols.
I have an ongoing disagreement with someone over the use of the apostrophe in “girls choir”. Because it is a choir FOR girls (dative form) as opposed to a choir BELONGING TO girls, I am sure that an apostrophe is not required. Another example is “visitors car park”. If you look around at signs for car parks around the country, you will always find them written without the apostrophe. The same goes for ladies (and gents) toilets.
The use of an apostrophe for plurals is mandatory if you are a greengrocer, for example: Apple’s, Plum’s, Cauliflower’s, etc. 🙂 I call it “Greengrocer’s Syndrome” (note the correct use of the apostrophe!)
I really liked this site at all, mainy the punctuation issues. I´m a non-native speaker and I sometimes get confused when I come across it: what to use?? We sometimes forget that Portuguese language rules can be also aplied to English.
From now on, I´ll pay more attention to all this punctuation tips (rules, by the way).
Does this rule apply when using the days of the week. I have seen both used and would like a confirmation on the correct way to write a sentence something like this….
Forms must be turned in on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s only.
Forms must be turned on on Tuesdays and Thursdays only.
I would like to be a good translator and speake of english language, so hope this site will help me in this regards.
I would like to b e the best translator of english and speaker too.
I rarely suggest using an apostrophe when making an item plural. I covered the topic here:
It should be 4 i’s and 4 s’s.
Another example is:
There are 3 i’s, 3 s’s and 2 p’s in the name Mississipi.
Kitty, I agree with you.
In my opinion (and Bryan Garner’s, haha), the only time when you can use an apostrophe to pluralize something is when it’s an abbreviation made up of lowercase letters. As in, “She knows her abc’s.”
This makes sense to me because abcs looks confusing and wrong.
But anyway, most abbreviations are uppercase, meaning that there’s no confusion, because the lowercase s is obviously separate from the uppercase abbreviation (e.g., ABCs).