Do Not Use Apostrophes to Make Plurals

Please–don't do it. Don't use apostrophes to make expressions plural, like this:

Apostrophe plural

This photo of a plumbing supply company storefront is NOT for a company owned by people named Spa and Pool. If it were, Spa's & Pool's might be the perfect sign. 

Spas & Pools–that's what the sign should say. 

Google knows better. When I typed Spa's and Pool's into the search box, it responded: 

Did you mean: spas and pools

Yes, Google, the owner of the company meant Spas & Pools–the sign is simply wrong. 

You may be wondering whether it is ever correct to use an apostrophe to form a plural. Yes, occasionally that use makes sense. These rules and examples are taken from The Gregg Reference Manual (Gregg), with additional notes from Garner's Modern American Usage (Garner's) and The Associated Press Stylebook (AP). 

  1. Capital letters and abbreviations ending with capital letters are made plural by adding alone. Examples: three Rs, two Cs, HMOs, FAQs, Ph.D.s, DVDs
    However, use an apostrophe before the where confusion might otherwise result. Examples: three A's, too many I's, two U's (The plurals might otherwise be seen as As, Is, and Us.)

    AP agrees with Gregg. 

    Garner's recommends an apostrophe with capitalized abbreviations that contain periods. Example: M.B.A.'s. 

  2. For the sake of clarity, uncapitalized letters and most uncapitalized abbreviations are made plural by adding an apostrophe and an s. Examples: dotting the i's, wearing pj's, p's and q's, bbc's

    Garner's 
    agrees with Gregg, citing gif's as an example. 

    AP does not discuss uncapitalized letters; for single letters, it uses the apostrophe, citing p's and q's. 

  3. If the plural form is unfamiliar or is likely to be misread, use an apostrophe and an to form the plural. Examples: or's or nor's, which's and that's (rather than ors or nors, whiches and thats). 

    AP does not use an apostrophe in these situations, just simple plurals. 

    Garner's prefers using typography rather than apostrophes in these situations, with the word itself in italic type and the in roman type. Example: Trim the number of ofs to tighten prose. 

    Everyone agrees that if the singular form contains an apostrophe, add only an to form the plural. Examples: ain'ts, don'ts

When I learned the rules of plurals many years ago, I think I learned to add an apostrophe to make numbers plural, things like 1970's and temperatures in the 80's. My copy of the Handbook of Business English, published in 1914 (No, I'm not that old! I got it from my 100-year-old cousin), says to use the apostrophe to indicate the plural of figures.

However, these days we use only an to make numbers plural: 1970s, 80s, W-2s, 1099s, MP3s, etc. Gregg, Garner's and AP agree on these number plurals without apostrophes. Still, the New Oxford Style Manual points out that "find all the number 7's" may be useful. Without that apostrophe, readers might look for the number 7 with a letter after it. 

In my business writing classes, the word that people most often render incorrectly is memos, into which they have inserted an apostrophe. But memos is the correct plural. The term memo's is correct only when you intend it to be possessive: The memo's subject line is too long. 

Except for the few exceptional situations above, don't use an apostrophe to form a plural. It will grab your readers' attention, but not for a good reason. 

If you and your team argue about apostrophes and other punctuation marks, why not take my self-study course Punctuation for Professionals together? 

Feel free to share your bad example's examples of apostrophes for plurals here. 

Lynn
Syntax Training

 

15 COMMENTS

  1. THANK YOU! I can’t believe the number of times I’ve seen apostrophes used to make plurals. Personally, it’s one of my pet peeve’s.

  2. Very helpful, Lynn. Words that end in s can be tricky. I have read a difference of opinion when it come to adding apostrophe s. Example: Arkansas’ versus Arkansas’s.

    If we’re sharing pet peeves, mine is a bit off topic (typical):-) Example: it’s versus its.

  3. The owners of that store must be Dutch. We use “‘s” to make expressions plural. Being a Dutchie and living in the US, this is one of the things that occasionally confuses me. Lynn, your article, as often is the case, helps me with these tiny issues and keeps me on the right grammar track.

  4. Bas, thank you for the information. I had no idea Dutch used apostrophes to form plurals. If you see this comment, would you please write this message in Dutch:

    –We write reports.

    I would like to see what it looks like.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Lynn

  5. Hi Lynn,

    We write reports.

    =

    Wij schrijven rapporten.

    Although you could use the word report as well, I think. The Dutch are very good in incorporating English words.

  6. Hi Bas,

    Thank you for your example. I see that the word “rapporten” does not include an apostrophe in the plural. Can you share a plural that does include an apostrophe?

    I apologize for my delayed response to your comment.

    Lynn

  7. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for another informative post!

    This reminds me of a discussion/debate I recently had with a friend. Though it didn’t address the same issues, it was also on the topic of making plurals.

    The question was regarding the correct way of making the last name ‘Morris’ plural.

    The options were:
    (a) Morris’;
    (b) Morris’s; and
    (c) Morrises.

    I was certain that the correct answer would be (b), but it turned out (c) was the correct answer.

    It doesn’t make sense to me to modify a last name.

    Could you please clarify my confusion?

    Kay

  8. Hi Kay,

    As you noticed, we do not make names plural by adding apostrophes. We add an s or es to the name:

    Woos
    Johnstons
    Steins
    Gomezes
    Rosses
    Foxes

    If the name ends in s, x, ch, sh, or z, add es to form the plural. Otherwise, add just s.

    When a name is difficult to pronounce with an extra syllable added–for example, Hastings as Hastingses–it’s correct to drop the final syllable and refer to the people as “the Hastings.”

    Lynn

  9. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for your response.

    If I understand correctly, the same basic rules apply for pluralizing names as those when pluralizing other nouns in English.

    I’m not sure where I got the idea of not modifying proper nouns from.

    Kay

  10. Hi Kay,

    There IS a difference between plural nouns and plural names. We often change the spelling to form the plural of common nouns. Two examples are:

    candy = candies
    half = halves

    We do not change the spelling of names (proper nouns) when we make them plural. Mr. and Mrs. Candy are the Candys. Mr. and Mrs. Half are the Halfs.

    Lynn

  11. I make it super simple and say “If a word is plural (more than 1), don’t use an apostrophe. You’ll be right most of the time.” (I don’t even bother explaining possessive plurals since they are rare.)

  12. Whoa, Jennifer! Making plural words possessive is not hard. Why recommend that people lower their standards to be right only most of the time?

    In my life as a writer, plural possessives are common. I’ll use this sentence as an example: I hope you are not making your coworkers’ or students’ lives difficult with your way of applying (or not applying) punctuation.

    Can I change your mind somehow?

    Lynn

  13. Now if only people would read this article. It kills me how many otherwise intelligent, professional people just toss around apostrophes like candy at a parade.

    Ellen – I want to make the assumption that your last line was a clever poke… But these days, I have just seen it too often. It makes my eyes bleed.

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