by Barbara McNichol
When to use an apostrophe…
Sometimes, “apostrophe confusion” is more apparent than reading weather reports during an extreme cold snap.
If we can trust Punxsutawney Phil, the end of these sub-zero temperatures should be near…but in case a groundhog isn’t your first choice for meteorological – or grammatical – advice, let’s cover the basics with examples inspired by fellow grammar-guru Kathleen Watson.
Adding an “s” to numbers…
If you’re pluralizing a number, don’t add an apostrophe.
- Temperatures will drop into the 30s tonight.
- There were four 747s waiting on the tarmac.
- She said both size 8s were too loose.
Adding an “s” to decades…
If you’re writing about years as decades, don’t add an apostrophe.
- He teaches a class on rock bands of the 1960s and ’70s.*
- They worked together to refurbish a vintage car from the 1940s.
- This is the most snowfall the region has seen since the 1980s.
When writing about a trend in a year or decade…
When a year or decade defines something that could be replaced by another proper noun, use an apostrophe to indicate possession.
- During Germany’s Olympic Games in Berlin, Jesse Owens won four gold medals.
During 1936’s Olympic Games in Berlin, Jesse Owens won four gold medals.
- Funds raise by Mary Holmes in 2018 surpassed Jane Smith’s efforts in 2017.
Funds raised in 2018 surpassed 2017’s efforts.
- The Chicago White Sox were World Series Champions in 2005.
The Chicago White Sox were 2005’s World Series Champions.
When starting a sentence with a number…
Whenever possible, avoid using a number at the beginning of a sentence unless it’s a year. And be sure to add an apostrophe according to the rules above.
- 1929’s stock market crash marked the beginning of the Great Depression.
- 2019 was the most robust year for new car sales in our region.
- Seventy percent of my day is consumed by responding to emails.
Don’t use an apostrophe to pluralize numbers:
Incorrect: “The airline owns a fleet of 747’s.”
Correct: “The airline owns a fleet of 747s.”
Don’t use an apostrophe with a number that indicates a decade:
Incorrect: “The 1960’s were marked by advances in civil rights and space travel.”
Correct: “The 1960s were marked by advances in civil rights and space travel.”
Do use an apostrophe to designate possession.
Incorrect: “Funds raised this year surpassed 2019s target.”
Correct: “Funds raised this year surpassed 2019’s target.”
*Bonus: Use an apostrophe to indicate missing digits.
Incorrect: “Most people look back at the 60s with fondness.”
Correct: “Most people look back at the ’60s with fondness.”
Following the guidelines of good grammar is always important. Why? When you communicate in a clear, correct manner, your message carries more resonance and credibility.
Did you find this article helpful? Here are a few more gems.
Thanks to Kathy Watson for her input to this post. I highly recommend her reference guide Grammar for People Who Hate Rules to help you get over the grammar hump with ease.