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  • Bob McCalden

In The Times again!

The article in The Times on 12 August finished with a question asking the APS what it had to say about do's and don'ts. I answered, and was pleased to see a follow-up piece in The Times on Saturday 19 August.


Apostrophe apostle

Well, here it is from the horse’s mouth. Bob McCalden of the Apostrophe Protection Society, whom I invoked last week, has come up with the full story on do’s and don’ts.

“The strictly applied rule of not using an apostrophe to form a plural would give ‘dos and don’ts’ — where both words get an ‘s’ without an apostrophe to indicate they’re plural, and the apostrophe in ‘don’t’ is correctly there to indicate the contraction of ‘do not’. However, one of the guiding principles behind the use of apostrophes and, indeed, of most punctuation, is to avoid confusion in written text. In this case, it’s not clear if the word ‘dos’ is the plural of ‘do’ or another word entirely. To help avoid confusion, it is acceptable to write this as ‘do’s’, giving the form that you’ve used as ‘do’s and don’ts’. Note that it would be wrong to similarly put a second apostrophe in the plural of ‘don’ts’ as it doesn’t need the same clarification, and any argument about consistency with the two plurals is not appropriate as there’s no confusion to be avoided.”

Happily, this is all consistent with the Times style guide, although we put it more concisely. Do’s and don’ts, we say, is “ugly, inconsistent, but clear and understood; the alternatives seem worse”.

Incidentally, what is it about apostrophes that inspires people to verse? I’ve been sent no fewer than three poems in response to last week’s column. I’m afraid space prohibits me from reproducing any of them here.



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