Punctuality Rules!

MM: Sign’s of the Time’s

MM: Sign’s of the Time’s


Today’s installment of Mangled Monday: A minor rant on the topic of “When Did Apostrophes Become the Sign of All Things Plural?”

Apostrophes are just wonderful punctuation marks. They truly are. In her “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves,” Lynne Truss refers to the apostrophe as the “frantically multi-tasking female, dotting hither and yon,” because it’s so versatile. Lately, though, people seem confused and–what with the apostrophe being so helpful–are drafting it to do all sorts of things it’s not qualified to do, or misusing it for jobs it does do.

Let’s review, shall we?


Apostrophes stand in for other letters and numbers.

  • When writing contractions (Don’t! Won’t! Can’t!)
  • When writing years (’07)
  • When writing dialect (I told ‘im not to do it).

Non-Horror-Style Possession

They show possession. This rule of thumb is fairly straight-forward.

  • If the noun is singular, you use apostrophe-S. (My 30-year old television’s antenna finally broke.)
  • If the noun is plural, you use S-apostrophe (My monkeys’ uncle just stole all of their bananas.)
  • If the singular noun already ends in an “s” the apostrophe alone is usually sufficient. (Jess’ motorcycle.)

Plurals (but only on very rare occasions)

This seems to be the one that gets most people into trouble. As a rule, you do not need apostrophes to indicate the plural of anything.

There is just one exception.

  • They mark the plurals of letters and of words. (Too few o’s in to. Are there too many the’s in that paragraph?)

Other than that, though? No. Books. Beans. Words. Dogs. Lightbulbs. Notebooks. Cars. Drawers. All of these words are effortlessly made plural by the simple addition of the letter “s.” No extra flourishes required. This one drives me absolutely bonkers. If you want a plural, just add an “s.” Nothing else. Give the poor apostrophe a break. It’s already working hard enough.

8 thoughts on “MM: Sign’s of the Time’s

  1. jc

    Please, for the love of God, keep it up!

    Minor exception, though – in the cases cited I prefer the usage “too many ‘the’s in the paragraph”. As I said, minor quibble.

    Loved your piece on Strunk and White. I recently did some tutoring through the local community college and tried to find secondhand S&W at the local used bookshops (seriously, I tried at least 15 in my area of Houston Texas, very nea a nexus of Universities), and came up blank. The standard resoponse was “they either burn ’em or live with ’em – trashed or treasured. and either way we don’t get’em”. I ended up reciting most of it from memory anyway.

    Gode Bless

  2. J

    Hmmmm…just found your blog while meandering around the web, and I’m going to have to add you to my blogroll. Grammar is one of my pet peeves…poor grammar, that is…though I’m sometimes guilty of using it. I’m a horrid speller, though.

    I never knew about the apostrophe being used for words and letters as plurals…that’s a nice exception, there. What about numbers? You don’t need them then, do you…how many 5s in 50? How many 5’s in 50? Hmmm. Seems like the first one works better.

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  5. Lisa

    I just started reading your blog, and I feel I’ve found a kindred spirit. My brother and often have good-natured arguments about various points of grammar, so I will have to send him a link to your blog. However, I think you simplified the rule about forming plurals a little too much. Just adding an s works for most words, but when the word ends with a y, it’s back to the elementary school teacher’s mnemonic, “Change the y to i and add es.” Still, it’s refreshing to find someone who wants to maintain standards in grammar and manners.

  6. --Deb Post author

    @Lisa–True, about the y-to-ie rule, but I was only trying to cover the uses of the apostrophe–not all the possible ways of writing plurals. That’s another post for another day (grin).