In researching whether to write 1960s or 1960's, I have found several sources stating that 1960s is correct: one, two, three.

On the other hand, this source states that:

In British usage, we do not use an apostrophe in pluralizing dates:

      This research was carried out in the 1970s.

American usage, however, does put an apostrophe here:

      (A) This research was carried out in the 1970's.

You should not adopt this practice unless you are specifically writing for an American audience.

This is contradicted by a forum post stating that this is simply incorrect.

Now I'm not sure anymore. Considering the sources I'm pretty sure 1960s is correct, but is there any situation, in any recognised English orthography, in which the spelling 1960's is also correct in referring to the decade (as opposed to a property of the year 1960)?

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    As an American English person (Chicago area my whole life), 1970's looks incorrect - it looks like ownership (like John's) – Izkata Aug 19 '13 at 19:11
  • Purdue and Chicago manual of style are probably sufficient guidance to write '60s – A.K. Aug 25 '16 at 14:14

It's really just a stylistic choice, as per this related ELU question, but most style guides would suggest you shouldn't use the apostrophe, and these days, that's what most people do...

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I should also point out that if the apostrophe is used, it can't represent "possession/association" unless followed by another noun. You can say I was last year's winner, and (just about) I was 2012's winner, but that's a completely different usage. In OP's context, the 60's can only be a noun meaning "that decade".

Besides which, if you really wanted to use the possessive with the sense "of that decade", it would have to be the 60s' singer Pat Boone, for example. But nobody would actually do that - we just assume that regardless of whether it includes an apostrophe, the 60s there is a "noun" used as an adjective.

  • Hm, I never thought of 1960s as a plural, but I suppose it is. – gerrit Aug 19 '13 at 15:25
  • I would think of "1960's" as meaning more than one 1960, for example those of parallel timelines (or maybe in the histories of different countries) - though I doubt that is how it's being used by most people on the red line. – Random832 Aug 19 '13 at 17:29
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    @Random832: I'll stick my neck out and say I doubt that is how it's being used by any people on that line (the blue one on my chart, which is the red one on Zero's chart). – FumbleFingers Aug 19 '13 at 17:47
  • Oops. Didn't notice that. – Random832 Aug 19 '13 at 17:50
  • @gerrit: Yeah, I think most people would understand the 60s as a "plural" meaning all the years from 1960 to 1969. I see there are 73 instances of back in the sixty's in Google Books, but that just looks ignorant to me. After all, there are 453,000 instances of back in the sixties – FumbleFingers Aug 19 '13 at 17:52

As is ever the case with style in English, there is no hard rule except to be consistent within the parameters of the style guide you are using. That said, I know the Chicago, MLA, and Associated Press manuals all say not to use the apostrophe to pluralize dates, contradicting your contradictory source regarding American usage.

The common explanation behind the pluralizing apostrophe is to avoid confusion where the s could be read as part of a word.

mind your p's and q's; five a's and nine the's, two 1's and three 0's

Over time, however, we have seen a simplifying trend toward sparser use of punctuation. Many brand names have long omitted even the possessive apostrophe (e.g. Gimbels), and acronyms have mostly lost their periods (e.g. N.A.A.C.P. → NAACP, unless you are the New York Times). We have also moved from typewriters to word processors and computers which offer a wider range of characters and typographic styles, meaning we have better tools to signal meaning to the reader than simply a straight apostrophe.


According to the Google Books ngram viewer, there was a surge in the use of e.g. 60's in the US in, ahem, the 70s, which has been fading out ever since:

60s vs 60's, US English

60s vs 60's, US English

... but that surge is nowhere to be seen in British English:

60s vs 60's, UK English

60s vs 60's, UK English

Other decades give similar results. From that, I think it's safe to say that it's never been correct in British English, and is no longer so in US English.

  • I'm not sure I go along with the implications of your final sentence. It's not like the apostrophised version started to be somehow briefly "correct" for any given decade just after that decade started. It's just that there would always be more "casual" references to the current/immediately-preceding decade, by writers who either don't know or don't care about the "dominant" usage. (We Brits, of course, don't have so many of such "careless" writers! :) – FumbleFingers Aug 19 '13 at 18:00
  • @FumbleFingers I know opinion is divided on this, but for me, "correct" can only mean "widely used and accepted" when it comes to language. Since the apostrophised version was the more popular of the two from '35 to '70 per the graph above, that makes it correct at the time in my book. – user2098 Aug 19 '13 at 18:12
  • Hmm. Something's a bit fishy there. According to your chart, the main time-frame when 60's was more common was actually 10-15 years before the sixties. But people don't often write about a decade that hasn't even started yet, so I think there must be some other factor skewing those charts. Whatever - GB is pretty unreliable for such things at the best of times, so you have to be wary of seeing a real bias unless it's extremely pronounced, with a lot of hits. – FumbleFingers Aug 19 '13 at 18:18
  • @FumbleFingers I'm not so sure about that: I remember a lot of talk about how the nineties were going to be wonderful in the late eighties (especially during '89 and the fall of the Soviet Bloc), and a lot of talk about how the '00s were going to be unpronounceable in the late nineties. That's a shorter time frame, admittedly, but then we all have shorter attention spans nowadays ;-) – user2098 Aug 19 '13 at 18:22
  • @FumbleFingers Aren't the 60s around when the baby boomers came of age/entered the workforce? That could've added to speculation about that decade in the prior ones.. – Izkata Aug 19 '13 at 19:15

I have also researched the sources cited above. There is just no reason to put an apostrophe when referring to a decade of years.

On another note, acronyms are initials of words that create a word that is spoken as such. Examples include NATO, NASA, and laser. Acronym does NOT refer to the initials of words that do not create another word like the NAACP. I researched it generally and the definition is pretty consistent across most websites including Chicago.


You are REPLACING the 19...


The '60s, the '70s, the '80s!

You are replacing the removed 19 with an APOSTROPHE!

There is absolutely NO SITUATION in which It would be technically correct to utilize The apostrophe AFTER, such as "60's, 70's, 80's". This would be COMPLETELY INCORRECT!

Remember This!

  • 3
    This is quite wrong. In US usage it has until recently been usual to employ an apostrophe in the plurals of numbers, and this is only gradually disappearing. Likewise, it has been for many decades increasingly common to omit the conventional apostrophe before abbreviated dates. And even if it were right, there is no need to shout. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 12 '14 at 21:38
  • No, StoneyB - you are wrong. Check the style guides of national newspapers and you'll see that it should be either '60s or simply 60s. – user18405 Mar 24 '15 at 21:31
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    Welcome to ELL! ... This is the predominant "rule" now, but it is pretty recent. When I was a boy in the 50s, and still when I was a graduate student in the 70s, the almost universal practice was to form the plural of numbers and letters with 's. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 24 '15 at 23:12
  • If @StoneyB is wrong, so are a lot of books. Sift through the results of this Ngram, and you'll see that sometimes the apostrophe is put before the decade, sometimes after, and sometimes it's omitted altogether. Usage trends indicate that putting it after is falling out of favor, but you can still find instances. – J.R. Mar 25 '15 at 9:23
  • @user18405 (cont.) At least one book published by Stanford University Press even put an apostrophe in both places: "Of the many hotels and stage stations erected along the Mariposa Road during the '50's, '60's, and '70's, only one remains today." (I wouldn't recommed that practice, but it's worth noting that it can be nonetheless found that way in a book.) – J.R. Mar 25 '15 at 9:26

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