06 February 2013
Grammar Bites: Apostrophe use in Do's and Don'ts
It is generally a rule that you do not use an apostrophe to create a plural. So, for example, you would not say "grammar rule's". You also don't use apostrophes to create plurals of abbreviations, such as "MPs", "PCs", "1900s", and so on.
Except (there is always an exception in English, isn't there) when the creation of the plural will cause the meaning of the word to change. Let me explain, if you say that there is an "a" in explain, but there are two of them in explanation, you cannot say "as", as this would be read as "as", which changes the meaning. So, you have to add the apostrophe, even if it is not strictly speaking correct. You would say that there are two "a's" in explanation.
In the case of more than one "do" you would need the apostrophe to create the plural for the same reason as the example above. Many "dos" can be confused with a computer operating system known to those of us who are old enough to lie about our age. So, we would write "do's".
Now, the second apostrophe in "don't's" is not actually necessary, but if you are using "do's" it would be inconsistent to use "don'ts" and you would therefore use "don't's". So, "these are the do's and don't's of apostrophe use".
There is no agreement on this, though, and "don'ts" would be correct, as would "dos", although there is the possibility of misreading that. The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, advocates using "dos and don'ts", some style guides suggest using "do's and don'ts" and others use "do's and don't's".
Consistency is key and it is therefore a good idea to make a decision about how this pair of words will be written, and add that to your style guide.
Want to learn more about grammar?
Grammar courses at The Publishing Training Centre:
- Getting into Grammar – An introductory one-day course held at our training centre in London
- Grappling with Grammar – An advanced one-day course held at our training centre in London
- Grammar at Work – An online course that can be started at any time and completed at your own pace
- Any of our grammar courses can be tailored for In-Company delivery at your offices.