Spaceman Spiff

"apostrophe-S" for plurals

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When is it acceptable to use an apostrophe-S ('s) to pluralize a word?

My understanding is that this is acceptable only for numbers/codes/symbols (1's, 2's, 401k's) or acronyms (RBI's, IRA's). Is this correct? And is it required, or can the plurals also be written as 1s, 2s, and RBIs? And are there any other situations where this is acceptable or required?

What about specific keywords in a computer language which are not actual words, such as #define or typedef? Is it ok to write, "We use a lot of #define's and typedef's in our code"?

It seems to me that the apostrophe-S is being misused more and more lately. For example, I saw a notice at work that began "Attention All Employee's:... " But the rest of the plural words in the notice were spelled correctly, with no apostrophe. Why would someone think that using apostrophe-S is an appropriate way to pluralize one normal, common word, but not others? It's a pet peeve of mine. I've even been corrected by one person, who told me I should have used an apostrophe for a common plural word! Arrgghhh!!

And while we're on the subject, how should I be spelling out ('s) in this post? Should it be "apostrophe S"? Or maybe apostrophe-s? (Big S or small s? With quotes or without? With a hyphen or without?)

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It is my understanding that an apostrophe is never used when pluralizing. The proper method of pluralizing numbers and acronyms is without an apostrophe (e.g. 1s, 2s, and RBIs).

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I agree with don. I never use 's when pluralizing. It's only used in possessive nouns or contractions.

Why do people use it that way? For the same reason they make many other grammatical errors. They weren't taught, didn't pay attention, or didn't think it made a difference since they'd be understood anyway.

I hope that help's.

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What about specific keywords in a computer language which are not actual words, such as #define or typedef?  Is it ok to write, "We use a lot of #define's and typedef's in our code"? 

Rewriting, especially more formally, is always an option. For example, you might have said:

Example 1: "In our code, we often use #define."

I am not a programmer. Is #define a command? If so, you might be even more exact by saying:

Example 2: "In our code, we often use the #define command."

(Example 2 also gets rid of the possible ambiguity of having a period at the end of a nonstandard word, as in Example 1. In a culture of dot-this and dot-that, a period can sometimes cause momentary confusion, especially if you are writing to novices -- like me.)

Use of underlining or boldface, in some situations, can add more clarity, but usage depends on local conventions and need.

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When is it acceptable to use an apostrophe-S ('s) to pluralize a word? 

My understanding is that this is acceptable only for numbers/codes/symbols (1's, 2's, 401k's) or acronyms (RBI's, IRA's).  Is this correct?  And is it required, or can the plurals also be written as 1s, 2s, and RBIs?  And are there any other situations where this is acceptable or required?

The following is from Wikipedia:

Symbols and abbreviations whose plural would be ambiguous if only an s were added are pluralized by adding ’s.

    “mind your p’s and q’s”

Usage is divided on whether to extend this usage of the apostrophe to non-ambigious cases, such as the plurals of numbers (1990’s), words used as terms (his writing contains a lot of but’s), and capitalized abbreviations (PC’s). Some writers use this form in a desire for consistency, whereas others say it confuses the plural with the possessive -’s.

I should point out that some rules of orthography are simply matters of editorial policy. Professional editors tend to emphasize consistency: Choose a standard and stick to it.

Finally, here’s an amusing combination in the format I use:

“The Roaring ’20s.”

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“The Roaring ’20s.”

That's how I would spell it myself if I had to use digits--but otherwise, it would never occur to me to write it in any other way than "The Roaring Twenties" !

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Apostrophes are used for plurals of numbers and letters (or multi-letter abbreviations). For instance: "That happened in the 1950's." or "I received all B's this semester" or "The computer has multiple CPU's." But when numbers are spelled out, there is of course no apostrophe in the plural: "He is worth millions."

(This is confirmed in Woe is I by Particia O'Conner.)

Formation of possessives, both singular and plural, has been discussed in another topic in the Grammar School.

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That's how I would spell it myself if I had to use digits--but otherwise, it would never occur to me to write it in any other way than "The Roaring Twenties" !

That looks like a reasonable "workaround."

When I get stuck writing text or computer programs and my current approach doesn't seem to be working, I'll often try another way -- maybe a very different way -- to achieve the same thing. It helps in getting me UNstuck.

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Apostrophes are used for plurals of numbers and letters (or multi-letter abbreviations).  For instance: "That happened in the 1950's."  or "I received all B's this semester" or "The computer has multiple CPU's."  But when numbers are spelled out, there is of course no apostrophe in the plural: "He is worth millions."

It's interesting that she says that, since most American publications follow the rules of grammatical style set by the Associated Press. AP style dictates that apostrophes are never to be used in this manner. Of course, AP rules are primarily for stylistic reasons, and in cases of grammatical optionality, will often ban all but one correct notation. (Does O'Connor mention any sort of optionality on this?)

Personally, I tend to adhere pretty closely to AP style, mostly because it's automatized from my years spent laying out newspapers, but I'm willing to accept the fact that there are some correct grammatical usages outside of AP style.

In this case, however, I disagree with the use of an apostrophe. Whatever the official "rules" of grammar say, I find it to be counterproductive to clear communication. When I see "That happened in the 1950's," I'm still waiting waiting for an answer to the question: It happened in the 1950's what? If there's no apostrophe, though, I find it to be perfectly clear.

Granted, one can generally understand what is meant with or without the apostrophe, but since the goal of using grammar is to be understood as clearly and easily as possible, I reject any notation that makes me backpeddle in the least.

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It's interesting that she says that, since most American publications follow the rules of grammatical style set by the Associated Press. AP style dictates that apostrophes are never to be used in this manner. Of course, AP rules are primarily for stylistic reasons, and in cases of grammatical optionality, will often ban all but one correct notation. (Does O'Connor mention any sort of optionality on this?)

No, she doesn't. However in A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (by Bergen & Bergen, 1957), it says that apostrophes are sometimes used in plurals of "figures, letters and words that are not nouns, but are being treated as nouns...", and that furthermore, these apostrophes are sometimes omitted.

Personally, I tend to adhere pretty closely to AP style, mostly because it's automatized from my years spent laying out newspapers, but I'm willing to accept the fact that there are some correct grammatical usages outside of AP style.

In this case, however, I disagree with the use of an apostrophe. Whatever the official "rules" of grammar say, I find it to be counterproductive to clear communication. When I see "That happened in the 1950's," I'm still waiting waiting for an answer to the question: It happened in the 1950's what? If there's no apostrophe, though, I find it to be perfectly clear.

Granted, one can generally understand what is meant with or without the apostrophe, but since the goal of using grammar is to be understood as clearly and easily as possible, I reject any notation that makes me backpeddle in the least.

I see your point in the case of numbers, because it's easy to see what "1950s" has to mean. But in the case of single letters, or multi-letter abbreviatons, it's not so obvious, and in these cases, an apostrophe helps clarify what is meant. For example, would you leave out the apostrophes in....

"Mind your p's and q's."

(If I saw a sentence that began "Mind your ps...", I'd at first think somebody was warning me to watch out for my postscript, since that's what "ps" means.)

Or how about....

"A's are difficult to earn at this school."

versus the alternative....

"As are difficult to earn at this school."

(Say what :) ?? The problem here is that "As" is of course a different word.)

Or if I saw "CPUs" rather than "CPU's", I might wonder, if I wasn't already familiar with the subject, just what a "cpus" is.

In these cases, the apostrophe makes clear that the noun is "A" or "CPU". This is important in cases of something that isn't normally used as a noun. And it avoids the further confusion that results when the abbreviation concatenated with the "s" is actually a different word (or abbreviation even) in English.

So, for me it, the apostrophe in these irregular plurals more often helps clarify the meaning and makes the sentence easier to read, and I'd be inclined to use them always, just for consistency.

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