Is it 1900's or 1900s?

Apostrophe or no?

Inspired by this thread.

I have always used the apostrophe and thought nothing of it until one of my students called me on it. The english teachers get really upset when people use them like this. A little googling suggest that they are correct and I was wrong. yet I still see it all the time, and I have seen style guidesthat say it’s okay if your publishing house says it it.

Wikipedia says it is unnecessary but possibly acceptible in American usage.

So what’s the Straight Dope on this?

Personally I think it looks funny without the apostrophe.

It may have once been considered acceptable, many years ago, but in today’s style it’s obsolete. Away with it.

Pluralized numbers look normal and proper to me without the apostrophe. Inserting it feels like inserting a pebble into my shoe.

I prefer without the apostrophe.

The proper answer is “yes”. :slight_smile:

Contradicting Johanna slightly, I thin kthere’s still a fair amount of contemporary usage with apostrophe, but I completely agree with her that the strong trend has been to do away with the apostrophe.

Well, the apostrophe makes no sense. We use apostrophes for possessives and contractions…this usage is neither.

It’s also quite awkward when you’ve already used the apostrophe at the beginning to substitute for the “19” or the “20”, as in '60s or '80s. Typing '60’s just looks wrong.

The apostrophe is used to make plurals of irregular nouns, but clearly is falling into disuse.
I don’t have a Harbrace College Handbook handy, or I’d cite.

But the apostrophe in this instance is no longer used, as I was informed in a legal research & writing class, in legal style guides.

The Chicago Manual of Style has a good explanation of the historical usage of this. Basically, the apostrophe signals a few different things:

(1) contraction or elision (don’t < do not; goin’ < going)
(2) possession (dog’s vs. dogs vs. dogs’)
(3) transition from one style (numerals, all caps) to another (CD’s, 1900’s)

#3 is no longer recommended.

I suspect this is simple elitism: hoi polloi cannot be trusted with the apostrophe, as they have demonsrated over and over again. They use it after any vowel; they put it in verbs and other places where it should never, ever be. Saying it was okay to use it to form plurals in specific typesetting contexts was like handing matches to an arsonist on a dry, windy day. Now that we’ve moved on from typewriters, #3 isn’t really necessary, anyway.

So very, very true.

An apostrophe does not mean “Look out, here comes an s”.

As Dr. Drake has said, this is simply wrong.

The Chicago Manual of Style* lists a large number of additional usages, both as part of his case #3, modifications of it, and other uses entirely.

And that does not include the use of the apostrophe for elisions other than the standard removal of the o in don’t or wouldn’t. Various common words like 'cause, 'til, or fo’c’sle all use the apostrophe for shortening. This is important because if you check texts for a century ago you find that this was used for a number of words that have passed into common usage and are no longer thought off as shortenings, like 'bus (omnibus), 'cab (taxicab), and 'phone (telephone).

In those same texts the inclusion of an apostrophe in terms like 1990’s or '90’s was not only standard, it was essentially mandatory, the only style allowable.

*My copy is the 13th edition, old but still useful.

Modern style does frown on this usage. It is never incorrect though, unless you are trying to maintain consistency with a formal style guide that decrees it to be so. The Dope has no such style requirements and you should feel free to use it here and any other informal means of communications.

Both are fairly common usages, both are understandable, thus both are OK.

Sorry, twickster. Of course I meant demons’rated.

I’ve always used 1900’s before, I thought that was technically the right thing to use. I’m sure I’ve seen that usage a lot. I do agree that 1900s can look smarter, although I also think it can look a little bit weird if its used in the way I used it just now; I get an initial reaction of, ‘1900s is not a word, so there should be something separating the two parts…’


This is usage and so not a matter of an objective right or wrong, it’s a matter of style. If one usage is predominant that per se does not make another usage wrong.

The most common reason to use an apostophe in a plural is to avoid any confusion. An “s” on the end of a number can throw off a reader. (Noticed an earlier post with a cite from CMS on that.)

To take this an extreme, I bought an new old-stock framastat the other day. It was in new condition but made sometime from 1983 to 1988. They had both model 1990r and 1990s. So I bought the 1980’s 1990s.

However, the grocery store should still not sell apple’s under any circumstances. :smiley:

Good one!

Thanks for all the replies, everyone. So I guess the consensus is that it is not technically incorrect but it is obsolete and should be avoided, right?

Exapno Mapcase, your posts are always so well written and informative. Are you sure you’re not Cecil? I love your username, BTW.

:: nods ::
I’d handle that by rewriting: I bought the Model 1990s framastat; it was made sometime between 1983 and 1988.

Apple’s what? If they sell iPod accessories, the inexpensive headphones might be appropriate.


Thank you very much.

Cecil is sometimes wrong.


This is where I always jump in with the time I saw a very elderly Western woman who was passing by a restaurant in Pokhara, Nepal, heavily berating a sheepishly grinning restaurant employee for the words “Western Breakfast’s” written on the chalkboard out front. She made him rub out the apostophe.