21 December 2014

Referring to "the 50's" or "the 60's" is grammatically incorrect

Contractions for numbers follow the same rules as contractions for words. As a apostrophe goes where the letters are dropped in a contracted word (e.g. you are into you're) the same applies to numbers (e.g. 1950s into '50s)... By putting an apostrophe between the numbers and the "s" (e.g. 50's), you are making the "s" possessive
I see this type of mistake ("music of the 60's") frequently while browsing the web - and sometimes in the comments here.  I think I sometimes refer to groups of years as "the 90s" without an apostrophe at all - not sure if that's acceptable.


  1. I always thought of it as being a possessive, referring to something belonging to that decade. '60's style, sort of thing. But not when referring to the years, the 60s. Apparently, this is not correct?

  2. Actually it should be "the '60s." The apostrophe goes where the "19" has been left out. If it's possessive--as in Zhoen's example--it gets two apostrophes: "This is '60's style." Be careful to use an apostrophe rather than an open single quote if you're using "curly quotes."

  3. Do you have ANY idea how frustrating it is when you know this and do it correctly and you're constantly being "corrected?" Thank you. :)

  4. The rule here is that you use an apostrophe to separate a _symbol_ from the "s" you're using to pluralize. E.g., "Did you count the 3's in Jack's license plate?"

    You can also use it to pluralize words taken literally, e.g., "You can simplify prose by getting rid of unneeded which's and that's."

    Or, if you're pluralizing an abbreviation ending in a period: "Did you put the a.m.'s and p.m.'s after all the time references?"

    These are the only current uses for apostrophes in pluralization that I know of.


  5. I believe Anonymous is correct but I'd love a source I can refer to next time I need to defend pluralising a symbol. :-)

  6. Such usage is not incorrect as it is in common usage and universally understood by English speakers. Language changes. Everyone here knows this. What is incorrect at one time becomes correct. The rules of grammar are not set in stone never to change.

    Browse used to mean "feed on buds" (which would make your use above incorrect) and your capitalization of I used to be grammatically incorrect. Likewise the use of a what appears to be an apostrophe in number sets such as "50's" is now correct. This is especially true since its use has been around for over a century

  7. I like to think about it as how you would spell it out: in the example, "sixties style" would be unlikely to use the apostrophe (sixties' style), as it doesn't really work. Decade versus 1960? Do you mean "sixty's style"?

    It's all a bit controversial – I second Anonymous above; English as a dynamic language has led to its success. But definitely no apostrophe for the decade (80s), and I'm even against the leading apostrophe ('80s). But then, I'm Australian and we have long abandoned extraneous punctuation (preferring "am" to "a.m." and Dr Jones to Dr. Jones, for example). We use fewer Oxford commas than American English, too, but that's beside the point ;)

    I just hope we don't start to talk about CD's and DVD's from the 60's! Arghh!


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