Dos and Don'ts

by Craig Shrives

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Apostrophe Placement with "Dos and Don'ts"

Writers are often confused with apostrophe placement in the term dos and don'ts. This confusion is understandable because, despite what some grammarians might claim, apostrophes can be used to show awkward plurals. For example:
  • There are too many and's in your sentence. correct tick
  • (Of course, there are other ways to show the plural of "and" without using an apostrophe, but they are often unwieldy. Using an apostrophe to show an awkward plural is an unpopular style, but it is condoned by all the leading grammar references.)
  • There are two a's, two o's, and two m's in "accommodation." correct tick

Beware!

Using an apostrophe to show a normal plural is a serious writing error.
  • Pearl's melt in vinegar. wrong cross
Read more about using apostrophes for awkward plurals.

Different Versions of "Dos and Don'ts"

Here are five different versions of the term dos and don'ts ordered from most recommended to least recommended:

(1) dos and don'ts

Justification. This version uses standard plurals, which is a positive point. (Remember that using an apostrophe for an awkward plural is an unpopular convention.) The apostrophe has nothing to do with forming a plural. It marks the missing "o" in the contraction "don't."

Assessment. This is the most popular version. It is the version we recommend.

(2) DOs and DON'Ts

Justification. This version uses standard plurals and capitalization to highlight the words being pluralized. "Dos and don'ts" is often a title, meaning capitalization is an option.

Assessment. This is a popular version. It will not annoy your readers.

(3) do's and don't's

Justification. This version uses an apostrophe for the plural of "do" and "don't's," which means it is consistent and, technically, correct. However, "don't's" looks too unwieldy.

Assessment. As using an apostrophe for a plural is an unpopular convention and "don't's" looks awful. This version is not recommended.

(4) do's and don'ts

Justification. This version uses an apostrophe for the plural of "do" but not for the plural of "don't." It is therefore inconsistent. It does, however, make "dos" easier to read, which is the advantage of using an apostrophe for an awkward plural.

Assessment. This is a commonly seen version. Writers are attracted to the balanced look of an apostrophe in each of the principal words. For many writers, this is the version that looks the neatest. However, it is also a version that will irk your grammar-savvy readers.

(5) do's and dont's

Justification. This version uses an apostrophe for the plural of "do" and "don't," which, technically, is acceptable. To achieve a balanced look, the writer has removed the apostrophe from the contraction "don't."

Assessment. This is unacceptable."Dont" is not a word. This version is wrong.

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See Also

Capital letters in advertisements Using capital letters with proper and common nouns Capital letters with the four seasons Capital letters with moons, stars and planets Capital letters start sentences What is title case? Test on using capital letters

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