Previously, I asked a question about whether I should omit the article, "the" before the late 80s.

I saw in the answer by Absolute Beginner that he writes '80s for Eighties, the apostrophe is added before the numeral, i.e. 80s. Lawrence C put the apostrophe in between, i.e. 80's.

The answers have made me very confused, could you tell me which is the correct numeral for the years 1980, 1981, 1982... 1989:

80's, or '80s, or 80s ?

I always write 80s, does it mean that I am wrong?

Please help!


3 Answers 3


The ' in '80s is a placeholder for the omitted 19 in 1980s. For most people those are the only '80s relevant to their personal experience, so it is safe to omit the century.

It works in the same way as in don't for do not and it's for it is.

In my opinion, just writing 80s is fine, too.

Writing 1980's in this context is just plain wrong! feels wrong to me. As Larry Trask points out in his Guide to Punctuation, it is commonly used at least in American English.

In my opinion it would only be correct, if you wanted to describe a possessive. For something that "belongs to" 1980: So, "Hurricane Allen was 1980's first named hurricane" would be fine. It was the first named hurricane of the 1980 season. (Note, that this refers only to the year 1980, not the decade 1980s!)

So the wide use of both versions on the internet (just use your favourite search engine to find thousands of sites where 80's is used) propably is due to the differences in American and British English usage.

  • 4
    In what way is a pattern that is used by many native speakers (using an apostrophe between a year and a pluralising s) "just plain wrong". The orthography of English is defined by its users, and if both 80s and 80's are used, neither is incorrect. I tend to use 80s, but I would not describe those members of my language community who use 80's as wrong.
    – James K
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 12:07
  • 21
    In my youth the apostrophe was obligatory with plurals of letters and numbers. Most publishers and academic style guides have now dropped this convention, and I'm glad to see it go; but it cannot be said to be "wrong". Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 12:13
  • 2
    @cullub, yes, when I say "there is exactly one person known to have been born before 1900", I don't mean in the entirety of history, I mean alive today.
    – njzk2
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 16:58
  • 1
    @StoneyB I apologize for what seems to have been too harsh a rejection. In hindsight it is probably due to my native German language that I took what Larry Trask in his Guide to Punctuation calls unusual for wrong for decades. I'll update my answer. Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 10:04
  • 1
    Would you say then that "'80s" tends to be used for "1980s", as the 1980's recent history makes it most closely associated with the '80s placeholder, when compared to the 1880s for example?
    – coburne
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 14:17

The apostrophe in '80s marks the omission of the century, just like an apostrophe in a contraction shows the omission letters.

The apostrophe in 80's comes from an old style rule for making plurals of numerals and letters (mind your p's and q's). This style rule has fallen out of fashion, but it was common enough that you'll still sometimes see it.

The most common correct answer nowadays would be '80s. Some might not bother with an apostrophe at all and just write 80s, but that would be less precise.

Technically, '80's would also be considered correct by adherents to the old style rule, but that could lead absurd constructions like, The '80's' biggest pop star was Michael Jackson..

  • Not merely absurd but with typewriter apostrophes ambiguous: you can't tell what's an apostrophe and what's single quotes. :) Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 13:04
  • Technically your last one should be The 80s' biggest pop star to cover the 80s, 80's with the apostrophe before the s would technically be something belonging to 80 alone Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 14:20
  • @user568458: Read what I wrote again. There are three apostrophes in that example: one for the elided century, one of the old style rule for making plurals of numerals and letters, and one after the s to make those years possessive. Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 16:14

From a strictly logical standpoint, '80s makes the most sense, using the apostrophe to mark the omission of the 19, followed by 80s as a further abbreviation that omits the apostrophe. However, I've seen 80's probably more than anything else, and very rarely see '80s.

Bottom line: In most contexts, you're good with either 80s or 80's, as long as you're consistent. If you're writing in a formal context (academic or professional) there will be a style guide to tell you which to use.

  • 1
    Just because you've seen it, doesn't make it right. 80's is definitely wrong. '80s is the most correct. The reason for this is explained in detail in the other answers to the question. Although the OP's title asks which is the most appropriate, the body of his question asks which is the most correct.
    – flith
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 9:39
  • @flith Prescriptivist much? Language is about consensus - the only "wrong" answer is one that an average native speaker would consider to be wrong. Especially in an ELL context, it's important to distinguish between "that's wrong, no one would ever say that" and "this structure is inappropriate for setting X but you see it all the time in casual contexts." Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 15:56

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