When to Use Apostrophes With Numbers

guy in freezing tempsFrigid winter temperatures have punished much of the United States this winter. For grammar enthusiasts, weather reports have drawn attention to when to use an apostrophe with numbers.

These guidelines will help you decide.

When you add an s to numbers to make them plural, do not add an apostrophe:

  • Temperatures will drop into the 30s tonight.
  • There were four 747s waiting on the tarmac.
  • She said both size 8s were too loose.

When writing about years as decades, do not add an apostrophe:

  • He teaches a class on prominent rock bands of the 1960s and ’70s.
  • They worked together to refurbish a car from the 1940s.
  • Her résumé describes her accomplishments with Deloitte in the 1980s.

When the year is specific and designates possession, add an apostrophe:

  • During 1936’s Olympic Games in Berlin, Jesse Owens won four gold medals.
  • Funds raised in 2018 surpassed 2017’s efforts.
  • The Chicago White Sox were 2005’s World Series champions.

Avoid using numbers to start a sentence unless the numbers express a year:

  • 1929’s stock market crash marked the beginning of the Great Depression.
  • 2018 was the best sales year we’ve had in a decade.

Not: 70 percent of my day is consumed by responding to emails.
Better: Seventy percent of my day is consumed by responding to emails.
Best: I spend 70% (or 70 percent) of my day responding to emails.

To summarize:

Do not use an apostrophe with numbers when you are making them plural:
a fleet of 747s

Do not use an apostrophe with numbers that indicate a decade (except when the apostrophe replaces numbers as it does when abbreviating the 1960s to the ’60s):
the 1960s or the ’60s

Do use an apostrophe with numbers of a year to designate possession:
funds surpassed 2017’s efforts

Here are more tips on using apostrophes, including with letters and words.

This post addresses weather-reporting redundancies that irritated a reader.

Have a grammar question or a pet peeve? Let me know!

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

6 thoughts on “When to Use Apostrophes With Numbers

  1. AvatarMary Moore

    Many, many writers are apostrophe-challenged. It especially drives me crazy when people add unnecessary apostrophes to years (the 1960s). Thanks for sharing these tips…

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Mary! In a recent visit to a doctor’s office, I observed multiple handwritten signs on the glass that separates incoming patients from staff: patient’s, test’s, appointment’s. Aaarrgghhh …

  2. AvatarMichelle Smith Rapoza

    While you are a ruthless editor, I am a perspicacious observer. My level of sensory awareness is a blessing and a curse, as I cannot turn off this propensity for seeing what others miss. Case in point: The Chicago White Socks [sic] were 2005’s Word [sic] Series champions.
    I am for hire as a virtual proofreader. Feel free to email me. #humorheals

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Michelle, I suspect that you know how difficult it is to proof one’s own writing. We tend to see what we know is supposed to be there. I appreciate your drawing these blips to my attention — and I am grateful that they are easy to correct with WordPress. Sincere thanks for taking the time let me know. Mea culpa!

  3. AvatarEric B

    Great post.

    If you don’t mind a constructive suggestion, it might do to clarify that an apostrophe IS used when abbreviating a decade to its last two digits.

    For instance, the line in the post that reads, “Do not use an apostrophe with numbers that indicate a decade: the 1960s or the ’60s” could seem puzzling because it contains an apostrophe.

    Obviously, what the sentence means is to not use an apostrophe s at the end. But what it actually says is to not use any apostrophes at all–which it then does. I can envision that possibly confusing folks who don’t already know the rule.

    Thanks for all your tips!

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Eric, I did think about that when I was writing it, but in striving for simplicity, I skipped it. Your point is well-taken. Fortunately, it is easy to remedy, and I will do so immediately. Thank you!

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