If you have an awkward plural (usually of a letter, a number, or an unusual abbreviation), you can use an apostrophe to assist your readers. For example:
- Hawaii is spelt with two i's.
- She used six and's in one sentence.
Using Apostrophes in Awkward PluralsThe first thing to make clear before we start this lesson is that apostrophes are not normally used for forming plurals. (This is covered more in the lesson apostrophe errors with plurals.)
Using an apostrophe to form a plural is usually a grammatical howler. For example:
Assist your ReaderThe advantage of using an apostrophe is that the abbreviation, letter, or number is instantly recognisable. However, apostrophes can also be used to show possession. Therefore, when apostrophes are used to show plurals, it can lead to ambiguity.
Look at this newspaper heading:
You should only use an apostrophe in the plural of an abbreviation, a letter, or a number to assist your reader.
Using 's to show a plural can lead to ambiguity. Even if there is no real ambiguity, it will at least make the reader pause momentarily to check whether the apostrophe shows a plural or a possessive noun.
Look at these examples:
Do not Use an Apostrophe for the Plural of a Normal AbbreviationIt is worth reiterating this point. Do not use apostrophes for the plurals of normal abbreviations.
Do Not Try Too Hard to Avoid the ApostropheOf course, there are other ways to show an awkward plural. For example:
AVOID USING AN APOSTROPHE
Some grammar pedants claim that apostrophes cannot be used in any plurals. This is an outdated, dogmatic view. If you have an awkward abbreviation, number, or letter and using an apostrophe to show its plural assists your readers, then go for it.
APOSTROPHES IN PLURALS FOR UPPERCASE ABBREVIATIONS
When writing titles, you are sometimes compelled to use just capital letters. This makes it difficult to show a plural of an otherwise normal-looking abbreviation. Remember, if it assists your reader, you can use an apostrophe to show a plural. For example:
The apostrophe error with plurals
Apostrophes in time (temporal) expressions
Apostrophes replace letters
Apostrophes show possession
Full stops (periods) in abbreviations