Column: Grammar and the B-52s
Question: “Dear Jordan – Your commentary is always my favorite part of CURRENT IN WESTFIELD. When you get shifted to the Internet, I am always disappointed. Would you please cover this: 50s or 50’s? 60s or 60’s? Example: The Four Aces were singers in the 50s is correct. However, virtually always, that kind of sentence will appear as The Four Aces were singers in the 50’s. Help all of us old teachers out by setting the record straight on this one. Thank you.” (James E. Walker, Westfield)
Answer: Flattery will get you everywhere, as they say. It’ll certainly get you an answer about those pesky misplaced apostrophes.
As I recall from grade school, we had it drilled into us early on that apostrophes are used to make two main categories of words: possessives and contractions. Why folks are so ardent to add plurals to that list, I’ll never know.
At any rate, there are a handful of occasions when you do use an apostrophe to make something plural.
The two that you are most likely to encounter are: abbreviations combining upper and lowercase letters or with interior periods (i.e. Ph.D. becomes Ph.D.’s) and the plural of lowercase letters (i.e. p’s and q’s).
There are some exceptions, like uppercase letters which otherwise form a word when “s” is added (You can write A’s with the apostrophe, for example, so that it does not look like the word “As.”), but generally in all other circumstances an apostrophe makes things possessive or indicates omission, as in the case of contractions.
For the good of the order, some quick examples:
- Years written as numerals: 1900s, not 1900’s
- Uppercase letters: Ts, Rs, M&Ms (some exceptions apply, as noted above)
- General words: Haves and have nots, buts, dos and don’ts (maybe’s is an exception)
- Numbers: 50s, 8s, etc.
As a final thought, there is only one example I know of in which apostrophe use is based upon a time component: The B-52s. Prior to 2008, the band used an apostrophe in its name, a la The B-52’s. After 2008 – no apostrophe. I guess they finally came to their grammatical senses.