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Dos and don’ts…


This week’s pavement pedantry isn’t as cut and dry as we first thought. It’s those pesky apostrophes again…

If you follow normal grammar rules (which we do), then a list of things to do and things not to do becomes the pluralised dos and don’ts. This is because apostrophes should only ever be used to show contractions or possession. Never pluralisation. It seems simple, right? Well it was, until Associated Press stepped in.

For some reason, their style book offers a different rather confusing configuration:


Do’s and don’ts? Where’s the logic in that? In this case, it would seem the apostrophe in do’s is being used to pluralise, so technically, don’t’s should be its partner in crime. Which looks downright stupid.

Of course, Associated Press isn’t alone. The issue is one that has divided editors and proofreaders for many years. The Chicago Manual of Style and the Oxford Manual of Style prescribe the (more grammatically correct) dos and don’ts, while Macmillan Dictionary and the popular Eats Shoots and Leaves side with Associated Press. The thinking for these guys is that apostrophes can be used where they help to eliminate confusion for the reader.

So instead of reading dos as one word, it is made clear to the reader that the actual word they are reading is do, but in the plural form. Clarity that is offered by using grammar in completely the wrong way. Clear. As. Mud.


Ultimately then, it’s up to you how you use the apostrophe, but please, please, please we emplore you, credit your reader with some intelligence, believe they will work out that dos is not an English word and keep apostrophes out of this.

Here’s a few exercises to test your resolve. Don’t buckle now…

The do(‘)s and don’t(‘)s of office Christmas parties went right over Steve’s head.

Many mulled cider(‘)s make it hard to tick off to do(‘)s.

“Not the 90(‘)s. Please, anything but the 90(‘)s,” the fashion designer begged as images of plastic chokers, rubber platforms and camouflage combats loomed overhead.


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