There's a sentence in my textbook:

My sister got A's in her final exam.

Shouldn't be As instead in this case?

Can 's also be a kind of stylish for the plural?

  • 1
    Yes, it can. Since "As" is a word, sometimes writers will "set off" the plural "s" with an apostrophe, to make it easier to read. – Andrew Dec 28 '17 at 14:27

This is a matter of style. In an interesting 2010 blog post that touched on this topic, one writer quoted from the style guide of the New York Times:

Use apostrophes for plurals of abbreviations that have capital letters and periods: M.D.’s, C.P.A.’s. Also use apostrophes for plurals formed from single letters: He received A’s and B’s on his report card. Mind your p’s and q’s.

But do not use apostrophes for plurals of abbreviations without periods, or for plurals formed from figures: TVs, PCs, DVDs; 1990s, 747s, size 7s.

Yet another reason to use an apostrophe in your particular example is to avoid confusing the plural As (meaning more than one A) with the adverb/conjunction as.

As for the general case (a "stylish" plural), that's probably best avoided most of the time, but rare exceptions exist. For example, I could see myself writing:

That's one of the do's on my do's-and-don'ts list

That might be justifiable, because the word dos looks more like the Spanish word for two than the plural of the word do (which is a word that isn't pluralized very often). However, I'd be willing to let a professional editor override that style choice.

I found one other grammarbook website that talked about some of these very same issues, under Rule 2b, Do not use an apostrophe + s to make a regular noun plural:

In special cases, such as when forming a plural of a word that is not normally a noun, some writers add an apostrophe for clarity.

Example: Here are some do's and don'ts.

In that sentence, the verb do is used as a plural noun, and the apostrophe was added because the writer felt that dos was confusing. Not all writers agree; some see no problem with dos and don'ts.

However, with single lowercase letters, it is advisable to use apostrophes.

Example: My a's look like u's.

The website goes on to say, "Imagine the confusion if you wrote that sentence without apostrophes. Readers would see My as look like us, and feel lost."

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  • I really like this answer. Very well said, J.R. I've upvoted it! – Nick Dec 28 '17 at 21:57

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