Using Non Possessive Apostrophes in Professional Writing

Ladies and gentlemen, my day job is that of an editor, and it’s difficult for me to read for pleasure anymore without pointing out obvious errors in writing. Don’t get me wrong, in casual writing, I make plenty or typos and grammatical errors myself (just look at my blog for proof of that!) but in professional writing, it is important to pay attention to the details.

When perusing the internet, there is one particular grammatical error that bugs me when I see it that is consistently used improperly. The use of the apostrophe in writing should be reserved for missing letters (contractions) and possessives only. It is not used to denote plurals.

In order to help combat this increasingly common punctuation error, this article will provide a very brief explanation about how to use apostrophes in your writing when you are dealing with non possessive words, acronyms and dates. English is a living language, after all, and oftentimes when something is used incorrectly long enough, it becomes the ‘norm’ and grammar changes. This is one I’d like to see NOT change:


CD and DVD are two very commonly used acronyms that are often misused when writing their plural versions, so I will use them as my examples, but these grammar and punctuation rules pertain to any word or acronym. One sure-fired way when using initials like this is to spell the words out and ask yourself if you would then put an apostrophe on the spelled out words or not.

You see, while we use CD and DVD as ‘words’ they are actually acronyms standing for ‘compact disc’ and ‘digital video disc’. Do you know how many times I have seen, “I bought some CD’s today.”

So you bought some compact disc’s today? No, you bought compact discs.

The only time you would type this as CD’s or DVD’s is if you were using the possessive form of the word, meaning something belonged to the CD or DVD. While it’s not a common use for these types of acronyms, one example might be:

“That is the CD’s case.”

Otherwise, when using the plural form of the words, meaning more than one CD or more than one DVD, you would type this as CDs and DVDs.


Contractions are words in which something is missing, usually two words merged into on contracted version of the word.

Cannot = Can’t – the apostrophe is for the missing N

Do not = Don’t – the apostrophe is for the missing O


The same rule applies for dates. The apostrophe is for the missing numbers, not between the number and the letter ‘s’.

For example:

1800 = the 1800s

1999 is shortened to ’99

And we lived in the decade of the ’80s – NOT the 80’s. Or for you young’uns out there, it’s the ’90s and not the 90’s.

If you want your writing to be professional, it is important to pay attention to these little details that will separate your writing from all the other grammatically incorrect ramblings that bounce around on the internet.

For more help with grammar, spelling, punctuation and writing, visit the Accentuate Writers Forum and ask questions of the talented writers and editors who hang out there, or stop by and share your knowledge and experience with others too!

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6 comments to Using Non Possessive Apostrophes in Professional Writing

  • Nancy G.  says:

    Michy, I’ve been reading some older books here lately and noticed (don’t know why I didn’t notice before this) a hundred years ago they did contractions thusly: would n’t, should n’t, etc. Wonder when it changed? Likely it was as you say, people just started doing it wouldn’t and shouldn’t in error and it caught on and stayed. When you think about it, there would be that space in between the two words, would n’t there?

  • Rissa Watkins  says:

    Wait you forgot to mention the it’s its rule!

  • Richard Miller  says:

    I could not help but snicker when I read, “I make plenty or typos and grammatical errors myself”. Please note the “or” vice “of”. Forgive me 🙂

  • Writing Service  says:

    Quite helpful information guide for writing errot free grammar and some common mistakes we commit. Excellent post. Thanks for sharing.

  • caridad_xiong  says:

    Aw, this was a really nice post. Taking a few
    minutes and actual effort to produce a very good article… but what can I
    say… I hesitate a whole lot and don’t seem to
    get anything done.

  • tutaj  says:

    This blog was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something that helped me.

    Thank you!

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