When Not to Use Apostrophes

Writers often sprinkle apostrophes into sentences unnecessarily. The American Medical Association (AMA) style guide provides the following guidance about apostrophes:

The most common error we see is using apostrophes to form the plural of nouns.

Incorrect: Visceral artery aneurysm’s can have devastating complication’s.

Correct: Visceral artery aneurysms can have devastating complications.

Similarly, apostrophes are not used to form the plural of a name that ends in s.

Incorrect: The patient presented to an urgent care clinic after she sprained her ankle cheering for the Chicago Cub’s.

Correct: The patient presented to an urgent care clinic after she sprained her ankle cheering for the Chicago Cubs.

Another common error is using an apostrophe to form the plural of an all-capital abbreviation or of a numeral (including years).

Incorrect: Having <4,000 WBC’s may be cause for concern.

Correct: Having <4,000 WBCs may be cause for concern.

Incorrect: A woman can expect to experience menopause in her 40’s or 50’s.

Correct: A woman can expect to experience menopause in her 40s or 50s.

Incorrect: The drug thalidomide was responsible for thousands of deformities and miscarriages in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Correct: The drug thalidomide was responsible for thousands of deformities and miscarriages in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The AMA style guide provides many other examples of when to use and when not to use apostrophes, along with plenty of additional grammar guidance. When connected to the Ochsner network, Ochsner staff can access the AMA style guide, available through the Medical Library. For helpful writing tips from the Ochsner Journal editorial staff, check our previous blog posts here and here.