I am doing some research on the difference between 1990s and 1990's.

It seems to me that 1990's means something belongs to the year 1990, while 1990s means a decade including all the years of 199x: 1990, 1991, 1992,...,1999.

But according to this link, some still think 1990's stands for a decade.

So, I am wondering what will be the correct interpretation indeed?

  • Punctuation is largely a matter of style (and convenience). There is no correct form in this case. If you have a house-style guide to follow, then follow it. Otherwise, use your own preference, and ignore any pedants who try to correct you. – Mick Nov 16 '17 at 3:15

Generally speaking, 1990s and 1990's mean the same thing. 1990s uses a more modern style of punctuation (or rather, a lack of). 1990's is a more formal or traditional use of the apostrophe. I believe what @smatterer says about the use of the apostrophe as a contraction or to show possessiveness is also correct, but both of those usages are fairly rare.

To answer your question: 1990's and 1990s both refer to the decade, years 1990 through 1999. 1990's can also refer to the two rare usages mentioned above. So if someone tries to tell you 1990's can't refer to the decade, they're technically wrong. Keep in mind that a style guide will prescribe a specific way to write, but the style guide is not suggesting that it's correct and other style guides are incorrect. Don't confuse the rules of a style guide with some website or person trying to tell you what's right or wrong.

A similar question is asked and answered in greater detail here:

Do decades ever get apostrophes?

If you're not familiar with style guides, check out The Chicago Manual of Style, one of the most famous American style guides. It can save you a lot of time and headache if you're writing something big (or even small):



The 1990s is the decade 01-Jan-1990 to 31-Dec-1999 (e.g. "Mobile phones first became popular in the 1990s.").

1990's can be the possessive meaning "of the year 1990" (e.g. "E.J. Corey won 1990's Nobel Prize for chemistry.")

1990's can also be a contraction of "1990 is" (e.g. "1990's the year Germany was reunited.")

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