American Grammar Checkup: Traps for the Unwary, Part 2

Last week I started a series on common errors that can trap even the best writers. You can read Part 1 here.

Today we’re looking at one of the smaller punctuation marks — the apostrophe — to make sure we all know what it does and what it doesn’t. And our focus in this post is on what the apostrophe is not supposed to do:

We do not use an apostrophe to create a regular plural word. Not in English, anyway.

I have written about this before, but I realize that no matter how many times I write about it — or how many times others do — many folks either don’t see the posts, don’t read the posts, or read them but simply forget.

So, here are four points to remember:

1. Form the plural of a regular noun (even an abbreviation) such as cat, dog, house, friend, taco, pizza, Monday, condo, CD, or TV by adding an s to the word, NOT an apostrophe, even if it’s a “foreign” word.

cats * dogs * houses * friends * tacos * pizzas * Mondays * condos * CDs * TVs

2. Form the plural of nouns ending in ch, sh, s, x, or z by adding es.

catches * churches * dishes * dresses * fetches * fixes * foxes * buzzes * quizzes

BUT #1: If the ch ending is pronounced like k, add an s: stomach/stomachs

Also add es to potato, tomato, and hobo: potatoes, tomatoes, hoboes (but not photo)

3. Form the plural of an irregular noun such as woman, man, cactus, elf, calf, leaf, knife, louse, or mouse by changing the spelling.

women * men * cacti * elves * calves * leaves * knives * mice * lice

BUT #2: If you are writing about single letters that might be misunderstood because of the s ending, use an apostrophe.

She got all A’s in school this year! (Without the apostrophe, a reader might see As as the word “as,” even with the capital letter.)

4. Form plurals of numbers, dates, or acronyms by just adding an s.

They were popular in the 1800s. She’s in her early 80s. Those kids were born in the late 1990s. He scored all 10s in the competition! How many ATMs are in this building?

And of course, just to be even more difficult (English really is a tough language), some words are written the same whether they’re singular or plural. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

deer * fish * sheep * bison * shrimp * moose * aircraft * spacecraft

(I have no idea why 99% of these words relate to animals, or why they are formed this way. And I also don’t know why it’s one moose/two moose, but one goose/two geese.)

Bottom line: Do not use an apostrophe to create a plural word.

Next week we’ll look at the two rules for using apostrophes: forming possessives (singular and plural) and forming contractions of words and dates. Stay tuned!

Does this post help? Have I persuaded you not to use an apostrophe to form a plural word?

Are there other English words you might wonder about?


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you learned something, I hope you will share it with your connections so they may learn, too.

And you can find all my other articles on my website: