Poll: Do you use an apostrophe in plural acronyms and initialisms?

Do you use an apostrophe in plural acronyms and initialisms?

Two CD's
Two CDs

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This Poll:

  • Votes: 10,351
  • Comments: 82
  • Added: September 2003

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  • Polls: 1,073
  • Votes: 586,274
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Oh no! The evil apostrophe rears its evil head again!

The apostrophe indicates possession. Ironically, it has now possesses those who incorrectly use it to make the plural. We, the literate, understand that adding an s to a word makes it plural!


How would you make a letter plural?
Mind your ps and qs.
Mind your p's and q's.
Mind your Ps and Qs.


Ps and Qs


Use of apostrophes in order to form the plural of certain non-words is quite normal, accepted, and cited in style manuals.

This is a judgment call for the writer, but there are several style manuals available on-line (e.g. the Hunter College manual) that indicate that apostrophes can be used to form plurals in unusual cases where just adding an "s" makes the word unrecognizable: e.g. "mind your p's and q's"


Personally, I would either use Ps and Qs or "p"s and "q"s. The apostrophe is not for making something plural. In most cases, adding the letter "s" on the end of the word is.


What about acronyms where the noun to be pluralized is not the last word? For example, [and sorry for the healthcare -specific reference] TOB stands for Type of Bill. To pluralize this you really are talking about Types of Bill (bill types). So there would be no s or 's at all...


surely the apostrophe is simply substituted for the missing letters between D and s i.e. "isk" and has nothing to do with possession, just as the apostrophe in it's represents the missing "i" in "it is" and does not indicate the plural of it?

David L

I'm afraid explaining away the apostrophe to make a word plural doesn't hold up, even in the case of representing the missing letters in CDs. If it were "CD's" and the apostrophe stood for the "isc" in Disc, then wouldn't it follow that another apostrophe would be needed for "ompact" in Compact? C'D's would be just plain ridiculous. I think you do whatever improves readability, i.e. CDs and p's and q's.


According to most style guides, pluralizing initialisms and acronyms with an apostrophe is acceptable though not widely used. Individual lower case letters (such as "p's and q's") are usually formed by adding the apostrophe, but capital letters use just the s.


This is a case where common usage trumps any kind of dictated rule. Do you go to an Oakland As game or do you go to an Oakland A's game? This si how language evolves.


Well, I say CDs and Oakland As, but when specifically referring to a letter, I use an apostrophe. Xs and Os doesn't look right. X's and O's is slightly clearer, and whether that's common usage or not, I prefer it. Another example: I get A's and B's in school. Not As and Bs.


An apostrophe is appropriate in this instance. Also in p's and q's. It is absolutely used to denote possession, but that's not its only use. It can also be used to denote something missing (O'er there, wasn't, etc.) In this case it's showing some missing letters.

James S

The noun here is not CD, it is Compact Disc. I firmly believe that an apostrophe should be used here to indicate the absence of the isc in Discs (I am not using inverted commas for clarity). David L's suggestion that with my logic the C for Compact would need an apostrophe is absurd for what I hope are obvious reasons. The moment we are picking and choosing which letters we are including from a word, we need an apostrophe to indicate the missing ones. (Do not=Don't, Department=Dep't, Sergeant=Serg't). This is basic English. The whole confusion arises from people's misconception that apostrophes are solely used to indicate possession. The widespread misuse of apostrophes to pluralise annoys us all so much that I feel many overlook that possibly, in the case of CD's, DVD's etc. they may actually be right even if they are blissfully unaware of why.


I work in tax in the UK.We have a whole host of forms that need to be filled in, and they all have names. For example, there is a form P11d. How do you pluralise it? P11ds makes it look like the "s" is part of the name; and so surely only P11d's makes sense.

Well, if I'm going to use an apostrophe is some circumstances for plurals, I'm going to be consistent. Whenever I'm pluralising initials, acronyms, numbers etc, I'll use an apostrophe.

John W

Surely no-one would write, "How many as are there in abracadabra?" This doesn't give the right sense at all. The correct sense is given by "How many a's are there in abracadabra". When it comes to that, the answer ("There are five as") also is a bit nonsensical without an apostrophe.


I would write, "How many "a"s are there in abracadabra." with the usage of the quotation marks indicating the intent to use the subject letter as a specific noun (the name of the character of the alphabet) instead of as normal usage.

While I believe the use of an apostrophe to show the plural of CD to be incorrect, I wouldn't fret about it as common usage always trumps old rules in language.

Kathy L.

Common usage does not necessarily result in excellence, even though certain people feel that it "trumps old rules in language." Adding an apostrophe to form plurals of initials, acronyms, and numbers is for the purpose of clarity and ease in reading the text. I will continue to add an apostrophe because I strive for excellence.


I have a real dilemma - I oversee the quality of school reports going out to parents - teachers use acronyms so commonly - SATs GCSEs BTECs - their reports are an absolute mismatch of using and not using the apostrophe. For consistency I remove all the apostrophes before the reports go home - but feel like I am fighting a losing battle - and may be should just give up?

Nick D

When we write about a letter of the alphabet, don't we normally capitalize the letter? You don't write "the letter a", but "the letter A". This would help avoid some of the confusion and improve readability, whether you use apostrophes or not when pluralizing.

But then what of the expression "Be sure to dot your i's and cross your t's"? The letter I in this case has to be lowercase, because capital I of course has no dot! In this case, it's clear that an apostrophe (or perhaps quotation marks) must be used, so as to avoid confusion with the word "is".

I don't like using apostrophes to pluralize acronyms when it can be avoided. They always hit me like a speedbump when I'm reading, because I do generally associate them with posession or contractions. (And acronyms are NOT contractions - I'm with David L on this one!) But there are times when I think it is necessary to use an apostrophy for clarity's sake - for example, when it is a one-letter acronym (e.g., the Oakland A's), an acronym with mixed upper- and lower-case letters (as in Gerry's P11d's, below), or a letter of the alphabet.


The idea that the apostrophe that some might use in acronyms (a matter of choice, as correctly stated earlier) to stand in for the missing letters "isc" from the word Disc when used "CD's" is ridiculous. The apostrophe is used to form a contraction. The possessive "apostrophe s," as in "Joe's house," evolved from the earlier, formal "Joe his house." Sounds wierd, I know, but it's true. So "Joe's" is truly a contraction of "Joe his." This is the case for other possessives as well. The abbreviation of words (Ass't for Assistant) is informal and generally not required. An abbreviation must first be defined in writing. For example, the correct abbreviation for Sergeant (Sgt) will be used hereafter. I don't need an apostrophe to stand in for the missing letters since I've defined the meaning of the abbreviation. See? Check out the following link for additonal information.



Ugh! Absolutely do not use an apostrophe in those circumstances!

I'm surrpised that no-one else has mentioned what I do if it will look awkward or ambiguous: encase the word/letter in single quotation marks ('X's). It's simple, effectively separates the single, but without making it confusing!


The best way to pluralize any abbreviation would be to list the type of equipment as a word. For instance, TPS reports, BMW M330 cars, 7.62X39MM Kalashnikov rifles, [XXXX] network cards, [model] [company] computers, [race I don't like] people. The apostrophe does not add any real meaning to a plural.


@Statuess: I agree completely. I offset confusing letters in a single quotation. It's visually appealing, doesn't break any grammar rules, and is easy to read/understand what the author is trying to convey.

Tim Barclay

I think I agree with the majority of people here who generally recoil in horror to see an apostrophe used in any plural.

Having said that, though, I'm starting to come around to the argument that there are some scenarios where the use of an apostrophe to pluralise a single letter really does improve clarity.

Imagine, for example, that there were a chain of trendy restaurants called i and that you wanted to comment on the fact that there were a lot of them in your town.

It would clearly be confusing to write, "there are many is in this town". I also think it would be inconsistent to say, "there are many 'i's in this town," because you would not use inverted commas in an equivalent situation ("there are many 'Burger King's"). Therefore, in this case, I would grudgingly admit that an apostrophe would be the clearest option: "there are many i's in this town."

alex germain's

what about situations in which one is quoting within a sentence necessitating the use of an apostrophe? for example, "the same set of critical faculties are called into use with 'Bucketrider's' work 'L'evenement'." does the inverted comma after the apostrophe s go before or after or not at all?!

Ann McReynolds

More than 50 years ago, I was taught to use an apostrophe after acronyms and numbers and years. It made no sense to me at the time, although I faithfully adhered to "the rule" until a few years ago, when I missed seeing the apostrophe in the NYT, WSJ, and other reliable places. My instincts have been vindicated!

blake lowey

Oakland A's. The apostrophe is for the truncation of Athletics.


There is a difference between an abbreviated word and an acronym which some posters seem to be missing. In Oakland A's, the A is not a truncation of Athletics it is a single letter acronym (although I feel the sue of the apostrophe in this case is correct to improve clarity). CD is an acronym for Compact Discs so the posters who feel it is correct to use an apostrophe to replace the missing "iscs" are wrong - the letters are not missing as it is not an abbreviation.


I would write peas and queues


I would say dot your eyes and teas :)


As with the Oakland A's where the apostrophe truncates "Athletics," in P's and Q's, the apostrophe truncates 'pints' and 'quarts.' At school I get As and Bs because there is nothing to truncate. I have two CDs because you wouldn't truncate disc but not compact. It's an acronym, which the capitalization suggests. No need for an apostrophe here.


I have been wondering about this one for a while.. I have always thought that apostrophes DO show possession and that the use of an apostrophe in plural acronyms is NOT correct. I am coming to the conclusion that this whole debate is subjective like so many other English rules. Fish/Fishes Deer/Deers.. really?

Answer me this please. As a teacher we have a Behavior Modification Room in our building for students who are not behaving. This room is is abbreviated as BMR.
When there is more than one student who receive this punishment is it called BMR or BMR's ...
You probably know what I choose.


The very fact that it's "open for voting" shows that it's not a finally resolved issue. I've seen both used by respectable sources (whose English can't be faulted otherwise). Language is a living entity and changes over time. Apostrophes have been used for contractions and deletions, not only possession, and some have been dropped again. Think of the cello. It's traditionally a 'cello, contracted from violoncello. Or the bus: It used to be a 'bus, from omnibus. The word "bus" itself was meaningless; "us" is the Latin ending of the word meaning "all of us, everybody". "Sol luced omnibus" - the sun shines for everybody. Ca!

Randi Hill

the 's is used to show possessive intent. Not using the apostrophe indicates plural. In this day and age we all need to use our language cautiously, particularly in contracts and formal communications.


apostrophe for initialisms, but not for acronyms



PADDs (petroleum area defense districts).

Dan t

If the apostrophe in "CD's" is for an abbreviation then we should be using it for the singular as well, and say " CD' " instead of " CD " and that just doesn't make sense and it is in the dictionary without an apostrophe so therefore, saying "CD's" is completely illogical. I would also take note that an acronym is different to an abbreviation.



I am definitely in the younger crowd (under 30, though not for much longer) and absolutely do use apostrophes in my initialisms.

We ask punctuation marks to serve multiple purposes often, and the apostrophe is no different. Yes, it is for possessives ending in "S" excluding the case of "its." We also use it for truncations, contractions, etc. So those who are claiming it is only possessive are missing a sizable chunk of the picture.

I had always been taught that while it is acceptable to omit the apostrophe when pluralizing an acronym or initialism, the preferred, formal method is to include it.

Its inclusion isn't to indicate anything is missing, truncated, what have you, but simply to indicate that the "S" is not a part of the initialism/acronym.


Whilst this is clearly an emotive topic of conversation, and one that causes tempers to rise in my office, some posters on here are quite clearly correct (eg. L'zR'ss', Randi Hill and Dan t). Unfortuantely, I'm afraid, the rest just go to prove the deficiency in language skills demonstrated by native (and or otherwise fluent) English speakers/writers.

The acronym for Compact Disc is CD; the plural of Compact Disc is... Compact Discs. Therefore, the plural of the acronym is CDs.

Regarding the Oakland Athletics "calling themselves the A's and not the As" (LA, 2011), well this is obvious too when you give it some thought. The Athletics are belonging to Oakland and, therefore, the use of the apostrophe is justified and indeed correct as it is being used in its possessive context.

Typically, it is sufficient to add an 's' to denote a plural (with obvious exceptions such as fishes, leaves etc.) and the use of the apostrophe should be restricted to denote possession and truncations (i.e. don't).

Of course, rather than being lazy, we could always type/write our abbreviations and acronymns in full to avoid the liberal and confusing use of punctuation; just a thought.

Michael Voolich

While there are many basic common "rules" of English grammar that dictate how we write what we say, the most fundamental rule that trumps all other rules is that what we write must make sense. Specifically that means that when you see something in written form, you should be able to say correctly what you read. If this means using an apostrophe to signify a plural with an acronym, the do it. Slavishly following some older grammarian's rules for the sake of "correctness" is utter folly, as many of the examples given in the various comment's show. English has more words and MORE EXCEPTIONS than any other language.


Not using an apostrophe looks odd to me. Plenty of examples have been given where it should be used, other than possessive and contractions. So, I feel that it is a personal choice, as long as the meaning remains clear. In English, every rule is made to be broken.


For those arguing that the apostrophe is correct in CD's because it is replacing the missing "isc" do you also type CD' for the singular form? Of course, the contraction argument completely disregards the fact that CD is an initialism (acronym of initial letters) and not a contraction.


I do get annoyed when people say "all that matters is that it makes sense". We all have to understand what is being written and it's unhelpful if the punctuation makes sense to some and not to all. On another note, I work with graduate employers and have been told numerous times that initial applications that have errors in spelling and/or grammar are immediately discarded. Yes, language is a living thing, but it is still important that people get it right. Like legislation, grammar is defined and there is a "right" and "wrong". Rules are rules, and hopefully in most cases, logic and common sense prevail.

So, I'm firmly in the "CDs" camp. Regarding the forms mentioned earlier, using either single quotation marks or formatting (bold/italics) could maintain clarity and stick to the rules.


So I presume that those of you who accept "Oakland A's" would write that "the Oakland A's' general manager is Billy Beane"? I can't abide that.


What about FAQs or FAQ's it's both an acronym and an initiaism.


What about using quotation marks in reference to a letter of the alphabet? For example when writing the following sentence: I enjoy viewing my high school transcript, even if it is composed primarily of "F"s! Is the s included in the marks or not?


Comment's, Michael?
You do like apostrophes


What about numbers? For example, is it the 80s/80's or, more controversially, the '80's or even the '80s?

John H


The Oakland Athletics are commonly referred to as the A's. The apostrophe is appropriate because this is a contraction.


Using the approstrophe to pluralize may be accepted, but it makes it difficult to then indicate possessive. "The CD's gleam is enticing".

White Hawk

The use of apostrophes to denote pluralisation of an initialism or acronym is archaic. Those style guides that encourage it are pandering to an era when initialisms such as CD or PC were relatively rare in common language. While I can acknowledge some small merit to the argument for isolated cases, we are generally comfortable enough with established initialisms and acronyms not to require disambiguation. I hold that it is better to omit an apostrophe where there is doubt than to introduce even greater ambiguity with an apostrophe.

Maybe it's just me, but when I see an apostrophe being used to denote pluralisation, it makes me doubt the intellect of the writer. Just as we no longer require double-spacing after periods in modern typography, we should no longer be encouraged to use apostrophes incorrectly just to pander to those too dim to know the difference between a singular and a plural initialism.

I am afraid that I always use apostrophes to denote plurals when it comes to acronyms. To me, it feels 'right', but I could swear that I heard somewhere that it was necessary. Regardless of previous posters' comments, I feel it is a sign of formality, even should it be called obsolete.

I am becoming dreadfully confused. I wish it were more clear cut.


Is there a noun form called athletic? I can't see how athletics fits in as a plural noun.


Throughout my school life, I've never used the apostrophe to indicate a plural, e.g "Cds". However, I've noticed my teacher does in history - "the four D's" - and sociology - "NSM's" (New Social Movements) - so I've copied him. Now my use of the apostrophe is inconsistent - "Cds", "NSM's" - so it would be nice to know the correct rule. Also, I have never used an apostrophe following a date, e.g. "1970s", but I've seen some people do this....!?


What if you are using the expression "dotting one's Is and crossing one's Ts?" I had to do some transcription work when this expression came up. Normally I am vehemently opposed to using apostrophes to make plurals. However, you only dot and cross lower-case i's and t's, and the apostrophe is kind of necessitated in this case; otherwise, it would look like the word "is," and the "ts" would just look like a typo. I opted for "dotting one's i's and crossing one's t's."


There are some cases where I think it is necessary- after lower case letters. Other than these, I wouldn't bother- it's something I do my best to avoid.


I agree (like most people on here) that the apostrophe should not be used in plurals except in exceptional circumstances. CDs, NOT CD's (yuk!). And "P"s and "Q"s, not P's and Q's. Just because the Oakland A's use the apostrophe incorrectly does not mean we all should follow. Let's try and maintain some standards.


CD's would be short for 'CD is'....


The thread wasa tad too long to read everything gut the running theme seems to be that most people only think that apostrophes should be used for possession; there is also the contracted apostrophe. This is used in such words as don't, can't. couldn't and shan't. Interestingly, there is a case where you cannot use an apostrophe to indicate possession - this where an object possesses something (eaxmple; The sheep had its fleece shorn). The plural of CD is CDs and DVD is DVDs. The i's and t's bit is subjective but I would go with Allison on this one.


some things first:

1. the apostrophe is for dropped letters. and nothing else. so why does english mark possession with an apostrophe? because some fucking thousand years ago, English still had declension of nouns. since names are nouns, they were declined, too. nouns got -es in the genitive case. even names. but some time ago, the e was dropped and people used the apostrophe to show that. [the explanation with "Joe his whatever" is bullshit.] an apostrophe is ONLY for dropped letters. That's why there is no apostrophe in "its" (when used for possession), because there was never "ites".

2. words like CD are words on their own. CD is declined like every other word. going back to "compact disc" is bullshit, because no english speaker thinks of that word while saying CD.

3. "don't" and "isn't" have dropped letters. there was either first a contraction (donot and isnot) and then an ommittion of letters or it happened simultaneously. so, technically an apostrophe is not for contractions, but it can be seen as if it was for contractions, because letters are ommitted anyways.

4. you can't use quatation marks in the way people use it here. ("x"s) that is not what quotation marks are for. when you are not quoting, you can't use quotation marks. it's that easy.

5. there would be only one candidate for seperating the spoken s from words and that's the hyphen. it would be the only logical way to do that, because that's what the hyphen was introduced for.
[there are two a-s in this sentence.]
since nobody does that, for whatever reason, you can only avoid that problem or use an apostrophe, because many people do so.


If you are referring to the 1980s, as 80's, 80s, 80ies, then I think you are wrong. What's happened to the consideration of what's been removed. I.e. 19. So surely it should be '80s and we've omitted the 19.

And, by the way, I am well and truly in the CDs camp. Also I get annoyed with MOT's signs dotted all over the UK!


I have inconsistent usage. I might write CDs but woud write miRNA's, maybe because of the final vowel, maybe because it can also be written miRna's or mirna's (stands for micro RNA's in biochemistry). Anything else seems too confusing to the reader.


When I say Chess Society's representative in acronym form, is it CS' representative or CS's representative?


apostrophes are used only for contractions, not plurals, and as others said, possessives ARE contractions. no plurals are formed with an apostrophe. it's "'80s" or "1980s", not "1980's". in the case of a letter, uppercase (There are 2 As in this sentence.) if possible. preferably, use italic or underline in the confusing cases.


Technically, you would write them WITHOUT the apostrophe. Because people have been doing this incorrectly for so long, it is now being picked up in style manuals. Additionally, spell-checks have a hard time picking up on these, so they will insert an apostrophe futher adding to the confusion. This does not mean it is correct.

Bill Snardman

Anyone who would write CD's or FAQ's is a brillyant jeanious. Oh, and it's p's and q's because ps and qs makes no sense. And it's '80s--not 80's. Look it up.

Bill Snardman

riz: For clarity, you'd say Chess Society's. Unless you simply can't spare the time to type the TEN EXTRA LETTERS. In that case you'd say CS's.


RE: Athletics....IMHO most of the comments are incorrect because of a lack of analysis: start with the meaning of A in the Oakland A..! If A is short for Athletics, a plural (proper) noun, as in Kansas City or Philadelphia Athletics, which it is; then A (=Athletics) is a (collective) plural, proper noun. To show possession (it is the Oakland team's game), then it is an Oakland A' game, because (duh) A = Athletics, and the plural possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe to the plural: that was the rule in the Detroit Public Schools (back when we could read our diplomas)! I need help now: given do's (as in do's and don'ts), Go-Go's and Mama's and Papa's as dead wrong, what are the by-the-book, correct plurals of do, don't, and go? Tnx!


Alternate (2d) theory: if the A in Oakland As is short for Athletic (sing.), and ergo an s is appended to pluralize, an apostrophe again should be added after the plural, As, to form the (pl.) possessive, As'. I.e. an Oakland As' game?!

Alex Wadhurst

I've got loads of CDs but this CD is my favourite. Its design is amazing. Yes, this CD's label is definitely the best, it's all blue and shiny and lovely.


I say what ever your instructor says do People think there is 1 way to write there isn't .It's constantly changing


I have enjoyed reading the comments on this forum. Thank you. I prefer to treat acronyms as words so I would use
I have a collection of CDs and DVDs.
Most of the CDs' boxes are rectangular.
This CD's box is round.

Similarly for other acronyms:
Most of my photographs are JPEGs.
The children said their ABCs together.

I am not sure about plurals of single letters. Clearly some punctuation is needed but I am not sure the apostrophe is correct. I prefer to use a hyphen: Dot your i-s and cross your t-s.
It would also be quite correct to write: Dot your "i"s and cross your "t"s. Howeve this is more clumsy than the hyphen.
Even though I do not think the apostrophe is strictly correct here, I would not object to: Dot your i's and cross your t's. I agree with Allison that the "i" and "t" should remain lower case in this context.


I would say music from the '80s and '90s because they are abbreviatons for 1980s and 1990s. It is interesting that the previous and present decades ('00s and '01s) do not have good abbreviations in common use. I wonder what will happen when we get back to the '20s?


There is no letter omitted, or no possession involved. It is simply a matter of plurality.

1 brick, 2 bricks. 1 CD, 2 CDs. Easy.
And yet, on their website, even Adobe say PDF's. So very sad...


I have a typing book from high school, from the sixties, that says the apostrophe is used to denote plural, in the case of acronyms, single letters, numbers, etc.


Apostrophes are used to signify possession and contractions, i.e. "Jack's pen" refers to the pen belonging to Jack, and in "can't" and "don't", the apostrophe indicates the letters omitted from "cannot" and "do not". The use of apostrophes to indicate missing letters does not extend to acronyms, such as DVD or MP. In these cases, one can use a period (although it may not be essential), and reserve the apostrophe to indicate possession at the end of the acronym if it is necessary. If the apostrophe were to be used here to indicate omitted letters, it would still be wrong to put only one apostrophe at the end of the acronym, as this would be inconsistent, Hence, if one were to argue that the apostrophe should be used to replace missing letters, surely an apostrophe would have to follow each letter forming the acronym, as in "D'V'D's", which is categorically wrong.
English grammar rules are there and have always been there for a reason, and that reason is to make the writer's point clear to the reader. To disregard these rules will cause confusion at some point, at least to the enlightened.


I'd prefer CD - Two CD means more than one.
For multiple of p and q, preferred are "p"s and"q"s
I agree with Dmitry, the apostrophe is not for making something plural.
Similarly acronyms, eg. "several ministries of transport" could be written as "several MOT", where several implies more than one.


Why is there a need to add a "s" to an acronym or an abbreviation?
For letters, such as p and q, quote marks are better


I like the use of an apostrophe with an acronym to make it clear that the s at the end is not one of the letters of the acronym and that it is there to indicate its pluralness. Case may not always be an option.

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