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 Post subject: Apostrophes and plurals
PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 16:17 pm 
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I have a serious question for the assembled multitudes, since a large number of people on this board are native speakers of English, and a few of us have taken the time to correct the English of others, I'm going to ask a question here that seems to have no answer in our modern world.

Specifically, when do you use an apostrophe to indicate a PLURAL? I'm well aware that that an apostrophe "s" usually means a possessive in English, but I was taught, or learned, or observed at some point that an apostrophe was appropriate when dealing with acronyms, certain types of abbreviations, and certain types of numerals (like dates). For example, "The fleet consisted of four DD's and two CA's." Or, "My family came to American in the 1700's."

I think this makes sense, since otherwise there is ambiguity. After all, F-104'S means something different from F-104S, does it not?

Anyway, I was reading a novel (Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher) which won a big award here in 'merica (Thurber Award) and was written by an English professor ABOUT English professors. In it, an English professor ('merican) complains to the owners of an campground for RV's that they should spell the plural of RV as "RVs." I'm of the opinion that this is wrong. So I went on line and discovered an army of nasty little brats (under thirties) screeching that it may have been correct to spell it "RV's" back in the eighties but now, in our enlightened age of vaping and wearing pajamas and flip-flops all the time, it should be "RVs" you silly old goof.

What say ye? Is it "RV's" or "RVs?"

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Last edited by dancho on Fri 01 Apr 2016 20:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 17:02 pm 
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It's an interesting one and I can't help but bite...

I'm going to say RVs with no apostrophe is "correct". If using an apostrophe strictly, it would indicate to me it should be followed by something belonging to the RV. For example "the ME109's undercarriage" if there was one aircraft, or "the ME109s' undercarriage" if discussing the undercarriage on two or more aircraft. But if you were just identifying two bandits, "two ME109s on your six".

However language evolves organically over time, and people put them in after abbreviations as you say. Whatcha gonna do, innit? :shrug:

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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 17:17 pm 
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lof03 wrote:
If using an apostrophe strictly, it would indicate to me it should be followed by something belonging to the RV.

Í reckon that´s correct.

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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 18:39 pm 
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dancho wrote:
I think this makes sense, since otherwise there is abiguity. After all, F-104'S means something different from F-104S, does it not?

You mean, of course, ambiguity, but as this is grammar, not spell-check, here's my $0.02 worth:

1700s, RVs and F-104s. F-104s means multiple F-104s, while F-104S means a sub-type of F-104.

Oh, and ambiguity is a staple of the English language, so don't worry about it. "Sometimes words have two meanings" (Led Zeppelin, "Stairway to Heaven", Led Zeppelin IV, 1971 - possibly plagiarised ...).

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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 18:52 pm 
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lof03 wrote:
If using an apostrophe strictly, it would indicate to me it should be followed by something belonging to the RV.

Spot on :!: The apostrophe pronounces a possession whether singularly or in plural, but it should not be used for a plural :naughty:
Bob's got twenty shillings in one shilling pieces (colloquially known as bobs). If Bob shares his money with his mate Bob then Bobs' got twenty bobs (colloquially known as twenty bob) :rotfl:

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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 20:04 pm 
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It is also seldom correct to put a comma before the word 'and', though there are some instances where this can be acceptable. As to the initial question, common and incorrect practice does not make something correct. Apostrophes are not appropriate for plurals. Their use should be confined to possessives. Where I think some people become confused is when they are taught that shortening a word can bring about an apostrophe (can not becomes can't). But this does not apply when shortening 'remote vehicle' to RV. The plural of RV is RVs.


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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 20:15 pm 
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Isn't 'RV' Recreational Vehicle? The other would be termed ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) - now let's talk about which form of the indefinite article you should use before both of them ...

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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 20:34 pm 
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James Russell's observation is that US common usage used to be to use an apostrophe for 1700's, but that this is much less common these days. Everybody used to know that the apostrophe in such use didn't indicate possession, but now this usage is falling away.

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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 20:38 pm 
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Brews wrote:
dancho wrote:
I think this makes sense, since otherwise there is abiguity. After all, F-104'S means something different from F-104S, does it not?

You mean, of course, ambiguity


Fixed!

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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 22:29 pm 
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The one that I find incorrect is when one sees 'CD'S'..surely it should be cds thus indicating plural. We say 'maths' as an abbreviation of mathematics and not math's.


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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr 2016 23:00 pm 
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gerry wrote:
It is also seldom correct to put a comma before the word 'and', though there are some instances where this can be acceptable.
The Oxford comma. Use it wisely.

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As to the initial question, common and incorrect practice does not make something correct.
That's not how academics view it, whether you like it or not. Common practice indicates a living language, which changes over time for better or worse. As someone once put it, Texting could become the new English (if it wasn't for predictive text and autocorrect, which has almost eradicated txtspk.
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Apostrophes are not appropriate for plurals. Their use should be confined to possessives. Where I think some people become confused is when they are taught that shortening a word can bring about an apostrophe (can not becomes can't). But this does not apply when shortening 'remote vehicle' to RV. The plural of RV is RVs.
The plural of RV is nightmare. Our local roads are full of them from the May 24 weekend through to September. Road maggots!

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr 2016 00:08 am 
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Dordogne Dodger wrote:
Isn't 'RV' Recreational Vehicle? The other would be termed ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) - now let's talk about which form of the indefinite article you should use before both of them ...


An RV.
An ROV.
A Recreational Vehicle.
A Peeping Tom's toy.

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr 2016 00:11 am 
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:rotfl:

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr 2016 09:39 am 
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Brews wrote:
That's not how academics view it, whether you like it or not. Common practice indicates a living language, which changes over time for better or worse.

I hate this "lazy teacher's" answer :angryfire: Just because teachers can't be bothered to teach English properly, or that uneducated people use words or punctuation incorrectly doesn't make it right. Communication, especially written communication, is about understanding what each other say. Clarity and unambiguity are essential. One only has to think of Lord Cardigan's order that led to the Charge of the Light Brigade :!:

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr 2016 10:22 am 
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"Send three and fourpence - we're going to a dance".
Brave of Ratch to mention teachers. In my opinion, much of the current (UK) controversy about the teaching of grammar "rules" to children arises because the current generation of teachers were themselves not taught the "rules" and so do not understand the need and usefulness of them. I write "rules" because, of course, they are merely conventions that can evolve over time. But (oops, there's one!) they should only evolve if there is good reason. Some changes (such as using "of" for "have") are just plain sloppy. However, Gresham's Law often applies (Good money drives out bad)

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr 2016 18:07 pm 
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I wouldn't wholly blame teachers - they have to stick pretty tightly to a (constantly changing) curriculum these days. Theirs is a thankless job.

There is truth in the fact that the mechanics of grammar have not always been clearly taught though. From my seventies education I know what sounds correct, but ask me the difference between the dative and genitive cases ;) for example, and I will have to plead ignorance, then consult my copy of Fowler.

I think Gresham has it the other way around though.

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr 2016 18:57 pm 
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I should point out that I'm not questioning the existence of the rule that apostrophes mean possession. "Ben's cat's toy's string" means the string of the toy of the cat of Ben. I'm asking if anyone recalls an exception to this rule involving acronyms and numerals. For example: AFV's, 7's, 88's, BB's. I know this exception existed (at in U.S.A. it certainly did) but I'm wondering if it has been forgotten, ignored, grown tired and retreated to a life of reading and quietude or if it has been judged "old fashioned" and "out of date"--in which case I'm going to war to reinstate the sacred one-off apostrophe exception!

The discussion here, so far, leads me to believe that this whole thing is a lot more obscure than I realized and the original rule itself is often in question (yikes!) and so things are much worse than I realized. I mean, if it's becoming "cute" to say that "the basketball star bought two BMW's and then his girlfriends car's were traded in for new one's" then I guess the situation has deteriorated to the point where I should retire to a life of quietude myself. Maybe we should use colors? Anything that belongs to me is red, anything belonging to my pal Chester is green. Stuff like that. Then we can just point at the word instead of reading it. Better yet, just use pictographs. Car looks like a car. Building looks like a building. Simple, eh?

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr 2016 18:59 pm 
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Ratch wrote:
Clarity and unambiguity are essential. One only has to think of Lord Cardigan's order that led to the Charge of the Light Brigade :!:

Agreed, but to be fair, British cavalry officers were never very good. :)

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr 2016 19:00 pm 
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dancho wrote:
Better yet, just use pictographs. Car looks like a car. Building looks like a building. Simple, eh?
So the Egyptians thought.

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr 2016 19:30 pm 
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And the Chinese still do!

But back to the point, I've never heard of an exception (in the UK) allowing the use of apostrophes with acronyms. I've seen plenty of educated people employ them in that way though. It annoys me intensely for some reason, perhaps because it reminds me of the grocer's apostrophe...

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