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We have both 1900s and 1900's to express 20th century. What is the difference between these two expression? For example,

in the early 1900's marine biologists realized that if new measures were not taken...,

In this case, does 1900's refer to the period of the year of 1900 or the span from 1900 to 1999?

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There is no difference. The apostrophe is a question of style, which varies depending on which guide you follow. In some contexts 1900's can be more readable, but apparently modern style guides consider the apostrophe superfluous and don't use it.

In fact some style guides seem to suggest not using either of these expressions as they are imprecise. For example, "The 1900s" can refer either to the period 1900-1999 or 1900-1909. Instead they suggest using an exact date range:

from 1905 to 1985

or else using the name, e.g.

the 20th century

Short answer: Use whichever seems best to you.

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