Apostrophes for the Plurals of Abbreviations and Awkward Plurals
The Quick AnswerIf you have an awkward plural (usually the plural 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.
Apostrophes to Show the Plurals of Abbreviations and Awkward PluralsThe first thing to make clear is that apostrophes are not normally used for forming plurals. (This is covered more in the lesson Apostrophe Errors with Plurals.)
In other words, using an apostrophe to form a plural is usually a grammatical mistake. For example:
- She will not eat banana's.
- Is it true that pearl's melt in vinegar?
- There are two a's in accommodation.
- Your 2's look like your 7's.
Assist your ReaderThe advantage of using an apostrophe is that the abbreviation, letter, or number is instantly recognizable. However, when an apostrophe is used to show a plural, it could lead to ambiguity because apostrophes are mostly used to show possession (e.g., the dog's bone) or in contractions (e.g., the dog's eaten the bone). Look at these examples:
- MP's Plan Failure (This newspaper heading is ambiguous. We cannot be sure if the apostrophe shows a plural (the journalist's intent) or possession. Is this title about (1) MPs planning to fail? or (2) the failure of an MP's plan? It's unclear.)
- The MP's leaving are to be replaced by Monday. (In this example, the apostrophe shows a plural. This is likely to cause a reading stutter. Upon reading the sentence, most readers would see "MP's" as a possessive, and some would see it as a contraction of "MP is." Only when readers reached "are" would they realize it was a plural. Of course, the apostrophes in both of these examples are unjustified because "MPs" is not an awkward plural.)
You should only use an apostrophe in the plural of an abbreviation, a letter, or a number to assist your reader.
Examples of Apostrophes Showing PluralsHere are some acceptable examples featuring apostrophes for plurals.
- You use too many and's in your writing. (The apostrophe assists the reader in this example.)
- There are two consecutive i's in the words skiing and taxiing. (The apostrophe assists the reader in this example.)
Apostrophes in Plurals for Uppercase-Only TitlesWhen 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 that if it assists your reader, you can use an apostrophe to show a plural. For example:
- CD'S ARE OBSOLETE
- TWO LRS'S PER PROCESSOR
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. For example:
- He had 4 CCJ's against him.
- He had 4 CCJs against him. (Note: CCJ = County Court Judgment)
- M.O.T.s (Note: MOT = Ministry of Transport / also Ministry of Transport test)
Do Not Try Too Hard to Avoid the ApostropheOf course, there are other ways to show an awkward plural. For example:
- Hawaii is spelt with two "i"s.
- Hawaii is spelt with two Is.
- She used six ANDs in one sentence.
- She used six ands in one sentence.