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 Socks were 2005’s Word 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:
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)

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