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Plural Apostrophes Options
Citiwoman
Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 11:04:06 PM
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I just read a post elsewhere that, when referring to decades, used "60's" and "70's." I was under the impression that grammatically, I should drop the apostrophes in all such cases (Ps and Qs, etc.).

I'm open to being wrong.

Set me straight.
Demosth
Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2009 2:46:49 AM
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This is one example of where it was wrong to begin with, and people just kind of ran with it.

If sixties is correct, and not sixty's, then why did we accept 60's, and not 60s?

Well, it's an issue where people read it as 60s and they wonder what the small "s" is for. The apostrophe visually corrects this problem as you will always read "60's" sounding like "sixties" no matter what... Though it does create the question, "Doesn't that make it possessive?" and in a sense, it does... We are talking about the time of the 60's, and not multiple instances of the number 60, so we can get away with this being read and interpreted as possessive -- when time belonged to the sixties, baby!

This was my understanding of it, anyway. Though I'm curious to see what other people think.
catskincatskin
Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2009 9:54:25 AM
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I just pulled out a copy of the MLA Handbook, 6th edition, which is the most current. Rule 3.2.7.g: "Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of an abbreviation or a number." That's the rule I'll go by.
tfrank
Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2009 10:02:57 AM
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According to Chicago 15, there is one way it's okay to use them in such matters - with letters. That's so that A's on a report card can't get read as as, and i's in "dot your i's" can't be read as is. But catskincatskin is right; apostrophes shouldn't be used to form plurals of abbreviations or numbers.
kaliedel
Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2009 3:15:10 PM
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This has always confused me, and seems to be something that, while wrong in practice, will take a whole lot of time to correct. I see the apostrophe used everyhwere - it reminds me of the usage "I could care less" when people mean "I couldn't care less," i.e., a vast majority of people unaware that it's wrong.
mustabir
Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2009 5:09:48 PM
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This is an interesting piece of grammatical matter but, while reading your posts, I got to wonder how 2000s would actually need to be written in letters (such as sixties) in view of the fact that we are about to quit the first decade of 2000s? Could someone tell me that the reply to that is very easy actually? I am ready to admit my ignorance (as a foreign learner of English) :)
Demosth
Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009 9:15:58 AM
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catskincatskin wrote:
I just pulled out a copy of the MLA Handbook, 6th edition, which is the most current. Rule 3.2.7.g: "Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of an abbreviation or a number." That's the rule I'll go by.


I see... so no using it for plurals, which makes sense -- but can we use it for years (possessive)? I think so... you could only write 60s if we were talking about multiple 60s, which doesn't include 61, 62, etc... so how do we address all 10 years in the 60's? We use possessive form: 60's - all of the years belonging to 1960. That's my logic on it anyway.

Did anyone find a written rule about years in numbers?

I think your book is referring to plurals in terms of multiple numbers and not years, for example:

"John has six printed copies of the number sixty in his dresser. He has six 60s." -- MLA Handbook rule.

"John has six copies of a book from the sixties. He has six books from the 60's." -- I think my description works here.
catskincatskin
Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009 10:53:09 AM
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The rule I was quoting from applies to years expressed as numbers, as well as all other numbers. Of course, the apostrophe would still be used for the possessive or for contractions.
tfrank
Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009 2:42:04 PM
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I don't fathom how "60s" in "from the 60s" can be plural. "From the 60s" is no different than "from the eighteenth century."

However, a phrase based on the genitive case would show possession, although there is no real possession (one explaination of this is that the genitive case in Old English used to use "es," and the apostrophe takes the place of the missing e). Copy editors commonly deride the movie title Two Weeks Notice because it should be Two Weeks' Notice. Two weeks' notice is a notice of two weeks. "Two-week notice" would also be acceptable, since hyphenating the adjective two to the noun week creates a compound adjective for the noun notice.

It isn't possible to give "1960s" the same treatment, because it would be impossible to do so without causing confusion. Although you could say "the years of the 1960s," to say "1960's years" would imply the years of the year 1960 - a non sequitur. Trying to use "1960s' years" instead would result in just as much confusion, the implication being that there were multiples of the year 1960.
Demosth
Posted: Monday, March 23, 2009 3:00:07 AM
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tfrank wrote:
It isn't possible to give "1960s" the same treatment, because it would be impossible to do so without causing confusion. Although you could say "the years of the 1960s," to say "1960's years" would imply the years of the year 1960 - a non sequitur. Trying to use "1960s' years" instead would result in just as much confusion, the implication being that there were multiples of the year 1960.


I can see where this could be confusing if you were comparing it to something like "teens" meaning "teenage years". In that case, you wouldn't say "In my teen's", because teens is a word that can have other meanings. Logically, I think it makes sense that "20s, 30s, etc" is correct usage. Though I am just trying to to describe how someone may have found it more logical to throw an apostrophe after numbers in years, if not just to make it easier to distinguish that it is the 1960s and not, say, when I was in my 60s...

For example, "That 70's Show" -- are we talking about the 1970s, or when grandpa was in his 70s? You would only know if you had seen the show before. If you hadn't, then this title is subject to interpretation. It's just an idea, but going back to my original post on this topic, I think the apostrophe being used here creates visual distinction: "The 70's People" -- oh, right! People from the 1970s... (not to be confused with people in their 70s) To me it makes sense that someone would inadvertently create confusion in an attempt to avoid it in the first place.


I think that there is some logic behind this and it's not just another pointless error. People are better than that.
MiTziGo
Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 12:30:13 PM
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Demosth wrote:

I see... so no using it for plurals, which makes sense -- but can we use it for years (possessive)? I think so... you could only write 60s if we were talking about multiple 60s, which doesn't include 61, 62, etc... so how do we address all 10 years in the 60's? We use possessive form: 60's - all of the years belonging to 1960. That's my logic on it anyway.

Did anyone find a written rule about years in numbers?

I think your book is referring to plurals in terms of multiple numbers and not years, for example:

"John has six printed copies of the number sixty in his dresser. He has six 60s." -- MLA Handbook rule.

"John has six copies of a book from the sixties. He has six books from the 60's." -- I think my description works here.


When referencing 60s as a decade, it is not written in possessive form. The ten years spanning 1960 to 1969, for example, are just "the sixties" and not "the sixty's". (See the American Heritage Dictionary definition below.)
sixties
a. A decade or the numbers from 60 to 69: They planned to retire in their sixties. The breeze kept the temperature in the sixties.
b. often Sixties The decade from 60 to 69 in a century.

So in your earlier example about John's books, it is, "He has six books from the 60s."
betford2
Posted: Sunday, March 29, 2009 1:14:11 PM
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Let me just add to the confusion here. There should be an apostrophe BEFORE '60s (indicating the elision of 19), and there should NOT be an apostrophe before the "s," as there's nothing either elided or possessive there.

Related pet peeve, which has more to do with computer programming than with understanding of punctuation, is that the initial punctuation there is truly an apostrophe, not a single-opening-quote mark. Computers automatically make it a single quote mark at the beginning of a word, and you have to use some tedious special keying to force an apostrophe, or to trick the program into giving you the right symbol. I'd type t'60s, for instance, to force the properly-turned apostrophe, then delete the "t," leaving just the apostrophe.
betford2
Posted: Sunday, March 29, 2009 1:23:43 PM
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Reminder: The apostrophe looks like a 9. The single opening quote mark looks like a 6.
bullit16
Posted: Sunday, March 29, 2009 3:09:40 PM
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> Let me just add to the confusion here. There should be an apostrophe BEFORE '60s (indicating the elision of 19), and there should NOT be an apostrophe before the "s," as there's nothing either elided or possessive there.

This is correct according to the Associated Press Stylebook as well. You would refer to a decade as the '60s, with the apostrophe noting the omission of the 19 and no apostrophe before the S because it's simply plural and not possessive.
Citiwoman
Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009 12:51:13 AM
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You are so right about the apostrophe before the decade! I just left it out because I already had quotes.
krmiller
Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009 11:00:38 PM
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tfrank wrote:
I don't fathom how "60s" in "from the 60s" can be plural. "From the 60s" is no different than "from the eighteenth century."


Certainly it's different. The eighteenth century is one century; the '60s are ten years. The "years" is understood. You might say "from the 1700s."
tfrank
Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 7:53:55 AM
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Oh, I just realized I meant to write "possessive" - didn't realized until just now that I'd written "plural."

The point was, "the 1960s" and "the eighteenth century" are both periods of time and are used in the same way. Whether you have one unit or multiple units has nothing to do with whether the multiple units show possession.

The argument could definitely be made, though, that "1960s" is a mass noun, sometimes singular ["The 1960s was a turbulent decade"] and sometimes plural ["The 1960s were some crazy years"].
Butterscotchy
Posted: Monday, November 23, 2015 4:43:26 PM
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As the English language is a living language, things do change. However, one common practice which is still unacceptable is the use of plurals for possessives or denoting of missing words or digits. If the shortened 1960 is said as only "60" then the proper way to write it is '60. The apostrophe is substituting for the missing "19." If one were to write "60's" then we are talking about it belonging to something called 60 as a possessive.
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